New Zealand mine announces redundancies

A miner lays down flowers at White Knight Bridge near the entrance to the Pike River mine where 29 miners died, in Greymouth
Image caption News of the redundancies has been described as a "bombshell" for workers at the mine

Most employees at a New Zealand mine where 29 workers died in an explosion last month have been laid off, amid the financial fallout from the disaster.

Receivers said 114 of 157 staff at the Pike River mine would be made redundant with immediate effect.

The company operating the mine was declared insolvent on Monday as it could not repay its loans.

Mine officials said the receivers would pay particular attention to recovering the miners' bodies from the mine.

A blast ripped through the mine, near the South Island town of Greymouth, on 19 November, trapping the miners. They were declared dead after a second explosion five days later.

A fire in a coal seam has prevented the recovery of bodies so far, though the authorities have been pumping inert gases into the tunnel to put it out.

'Poor timing'

Workers at the mine will receive a maximum payout of NZ$18,700 (£8,870).

However, contractors will be ineligible for a payout, as will those who have worked at the mine for less than a year.

New Zealand Oil and Gas (NZOG), which owns 29% of the shares in Pike River Coal Ltd, appointed a receiver after it became clear that the mine would not be able to meet its obligations, even after a temporary reprieve period.

Greymouth Mayor Tony Kokshoorn said the receivership was not unexpected but should have been delayed until after Christmas.

"There's no compassion one week out from Christmas, these families and the workers at Pike River coal mine have been going through hell, then all of a sudden they get this bombshell put on them," he was quoted by the New Zealand Herald as saying.

"What about the families of the dead, what about closure? Questions needed to be asked of NZOG about the timing of the announcement," he said.

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