49% of Miners Back at Work, British Report

Times Staff Writer

A record number of British coal miners returned to work Monday in the wake of last week's collapse of talks aimed at settling their strike, according to the Conservative government's National Coal Board, which operates the mining industry.

The board said more than 3,800 men went back to the pits Monday, adding that a total of 49% are now back at work, in defiance of the National Union of Mineworkers.

If this back-to-work momentum is maintained, coal board officials said, half the miners in the nationalized coal industry will be back on the job by the end of the week. That, they contend, would mean that the 50-week-old strike would be effectively broken.

However, Arthur Scargill, president of the miners' union, disputed the coal board's figures, saying that 64% of his 186,000 members are still on strike. He described as "a flop" the effort to get miners back to work. The government effort in this direction was especially intense over the weekend--with Energy Secretary Peter Walker offering cash bonuses slightly over $1,000 to induce miners to return.

Some labor observers attributed the defections reported Monday to the breakdown of talks last week. Officials of Britain's Trades Union Congress tried but failed to find a compromise solution to the dispute.

Last Thursday, the mine union's militant leaders rejected a formula to end the strike that it negotiated with the government side. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, through Walker, responded to the rebuff by saying it would not meet again with the union.

Throughout the strike, the coal board has insisted on its right to close uneconomical pits.

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