THE OBEY VALLEY COAL MINERS.
[Specially Written fob the " Star."]
The difficulty between Whitcombe and Tombs having, in a certain degree, ceased to be a cause of alarm, there iB another, and, perhaps, an equally great danger existing in the dispute between the owners of the coal mines of the West Coast and the miners there.
The coal mines at both Greymouth and Westport are virtually in the hands of a great monopoly; not only are all the mines owned by one Company, but virtually the entire carrying power is also in the hands of the Union Steamship Company, who are said to be intimately connected with the owners of the mines. Now, the Coai Company having refused to concede certain conditions asked for by the miners have taken the course of shutting up all the works at the mine. This hao thrown all the men out of work and stopped the supply of coal. At present, this action of the Company chiefly affects the people in Greymouth and the men who are deprived of work. Fuel is to scarce in Greymouth that the inhabitants aro using driftwood off the beach, and such small quantities of coal a3 can be obtained from Eeef ton, but these are very inadequate to the requirements of the town.
The Company's assertion that they are compelled to adopt thisvery drastic measure in consequence of losses arising from the high rates charged by the rainere for getting the coal, and the refusal of the men to accept leßs wapes may be correct. But it appears that, after an examination of the accounts of the Company, a considerable difference of opinion exists as to the reaults of these accounts. Although the men are willing to accept some reduction in their wages, the Company refuse to work the mines on the conditions offered, and a total cessation of work has come about.
The men have a most able and experienced leader in Mr Lamas, who must be in a position, after the examination of the accounts, to form a just estimate of the financial position ; and as he is well known to be a moßt fair-dealing and just man, it certainly seems probable that this powerful Company, who have been gradually getting all the mines into their hands, are using their power to force the miners to accept a lower rate of wages in order to increase their own profits.
Mr Lomas and others are endeavouring to get the Government to reduce the royalty and the charges for haulage ; but the Government allege that they cannot reduce the royalty, and have no power to make the Railway Commissioners alter the charges for haulage, as these are required to provide for the interest of the harbour loans. Surely the harbour wcrks are not to be classed as a mere local matter, are they not xeally a Colonial one P The development of the coal measures is of such vast importance to New Zealand as a whole that the cost of it is a just charge on the whole Colony, and should not be made a charge on any locality. The benefits arising from the working of the coal measures are not confined to Greymouth, but are shared by the Colony as a whole ; therefore, if it is shown that these charges are for the payment of the interest due for the harbour works, the Colony ought to be made to bear a fair share of the burden, and if by the reduction of these items the mines could be kept open, the reduction asked for seems reasonable, especially when the miners are willing to accept a fair reduction in their wages. But the casa is one which shows the evil of the monopoly which has been permitted to arise by all these valuable properties passing into the hands of a few moneyed men. Will the Government take any steps to compel this Company to fulfil the conditions it is bound by, i.e., to produce a certain amount of coal from each of the leases it holds ? This is a question which the representatives of the people should insist on being satisfactorily answered. The Government should take Immediate steps to see that this is duly provided for, and, if necessary, it should make any reasonable reductions in both the charges for royalty and haulage that may be fair. Something in this question must be done without delay, as the evil is becoming greater every day, and the reßultß will be felt all over New Zealand, and, indeed, are already being felt here, as the coal dealers have raised the price of coal, and there is every reason to fear that ie will be further raised, to the very serious loss of the public. The Government should be urged to at once take action, for already we hear that numbers of the miners are leaving the Colony, and this at a time when every month we are told of a larger exodus of our people.
Surely these are sufficient reasons for the legislators now assembled in Parliament to make every effort to compel the Government not to allow the interests of the public to be sacrificed to those of a wealthy Company, who are acting with what may prove to be an unfair exercise of their power to coerce labour.
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Star, Star, Issue 6936, 20 August 1890
THE OBEY VALLEY COAL MINERS. Star, Issue 6936, 20 August 1890
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