As Svalbardposten understands it, the initial discussion is about hiring just over 30 positions, including miners, electricians and mechanics. Most of the jobs are temporary and will end in August of next year.
There are several unfortunate circumstances that are causing the company to now be in the process of recruitment:
• The new computer equipment used in Lunckefjell has not functioned as it should. Consequently, work has also been substantially slower than planned.
• Mine development in the spring revealed large amounts of blocking stone on the edge of the coal seam. Development of the current panel was canceled and the projected volume of the panel is now less than anticipated.
• In addition, it is a generally intensive mining project with challenging geological conditions.
One-and-a-half months afterwards
The problems with the machines led to a work delay in Lunckefjell of 40 to 50 days. As a result, the company needs to hire extra labor to ensure a large enough sales volume next year.
It happens just months after Store Norske was about to end the all-time downsizing, which resulted in about 70 full-time equivalent positions removed.
"An important reason is that we have had more problems with the equipment than we had expected," said Store Norske Administrative Director Per Andersson. "The vendors have also confirmed that they are not satisfied with what they have delivered and have made a great effort to remedy that."
The current time, meanwhile, is critical. When the main field at Svea is emptied early next year, the new stope must be started in Lunckefjell. The deadline is March of 2015. The preparatory work consequently hangs afterward and the panel's estimated volume is smaller, but Arild Olsen, Store Norske's employee representative, is confident the company will manage to catch up on the delays.
"I think we will manage to take it in," he said. "We've done it before. When the reality was there and we had reached the field's limit, I must say it has happened quickly."
New people will be in place on Sept. 1. Store Norske has already been in contact with former employees and Olsen is satisfied the company is adhering to the principle of preferential hiring. He also points out the company is therefore avoiding on-the-job training since those workers have already established their competence.
"They have been good as far as following the rules," he said.
How has the reaction been among the staff when it is time to increase staffing?
"There are, of course, many who are taken aback that we had to increase staffing again, but I think enough people are also happy that we have turned so quickly and put in place a plan B, which will secure volumes and revenues," said the employee representative, who praised the staff for their willingness to accept the change.
Disagreement about numbers
Part of plan B also includes production in Randsonen at Svea Nord. This is a field the company originally was not thinking about starting before the transition between the Lunckefjell mine and a new mine in Ispallen, on the other side of Braganzavågen. The reason, as Svalbardposten understands it, is a need for an excess of 100,000 tons of coal in 2015. During the downsizing process, the workers' union argued for the retention of at least 12 employees to start the development of Randsonen. Their reasoning was the question was whether they would be able to reach uncertain production goals in Lunckefjell and the coal company would therefore be better able to handle the discrepancy. The argument was also recorded in the official minutes.
"They had assumed that we would be able to achieve the goals that were established in Lunckefjell and that the plans were good," Olsen said. "It is to some extent that we agreed, but with the staffing we were not equipped to handle discrepancies and we did not know the mountain or the new production equipment. I am pleased that we now have a plan that will ensure volumes and recoup the lost time."
"It is not entirely in line with what we had planned, but we have to deal with changing conditions," said Per Andersson, who stated the measures will bring the company in line with the plan again. The company has budgeted a net production of approximately 1.7 million tons of coal in 2014.
"The adjusted plan also contributes to a better volume-wise transition between Svea Nord and a fully operational Lunckefjellet," he said.
Analysis of the coal in Randsonen indicates the coal from the proposed panel is so clean that it does not have to go through a concentration plant for separating stone.
Will be the new main mine when Svea Nord finishes production in the winter of 2015.
• Will operate with stopes.
• Mine development began in the fall of 2013.
• Mine production began in March of 2014.
• Estimated coal reserves are 8.4 million tons.
• Estimated annual production is 1.9 million tons.
• About 60 percent of the coal in Lunckefjell is of PCI quality, which is used in the metallurgical industry.