SYDNEY: Anglo-Australian mining giant BHP Billiton said Tuesday it would lay off 700 workers at coal operations in central Queensland as it seeks cost efficiencies, with weakening demand from China sending prices tumbling.
The move comes as BHP executives have emphasised the need to reduce costs and maximise productivity in order to ensure long-term viability.
The BHP Billiton-Mitsubishi Alliance, which has seven mines in the resource-rich Bowen Basin, said the job losses were needed to “deliver further cost reductions and productivity improvements and remain viable for the long-term”.
“BMA will reduce its workforce by approximately 700 roles and consultation will occur with employees, contractors and their representatives in coming weeks,” it said in a statement.
The joint venture is the world’s biggest exporter of steelmaking coal.
The decision comes after a review of the mines found that the number of jobs was greater than required, BMA added.
“With our ongoing focus on improving the productivity and global competitiveness of our business, we continue to assess the most effective way of safely operating our assets both now and into the future,” BMA asset president Lucas Dow said.
BHP Billiton owns 50 percent of BMA, which it said is the largest employer in the Bowen Basin with more than 10,000 employees and contractors at its operations, most of which are open-cut mines.
The announcement follows the loss of more than 160 jobs at a coal mine in New South Wales state in July and 500 jobs in BHP’s iron ore division earlier this year.
The miners’ union in Australia attacked the job losses as “ruthless and unnecessary”, accusing BHP of contributing to the global oversupply of coal, which had caused prices to collapse.
“BHP is spearheading the drive by the multinational coal producers to increase production at lower prices — they are driving the oversupply we are seeing on global markets,” said Andrew Vickers from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union.
The union said it understood some 562 of the positions being axed were production jobs, adding that the cuts would devastate central Queensland.
“BHP has profited enormously from central Queensland resources over many years, but today they are showing their true colours as a ruthless multinational corporation,” Vickers said.
The announcement comes at a time of growing momentum towards low-carbon power production to fight climate change.
On Monday the Rockefellers, the first family of oil, announced they will reduce exposure to fossil fuels as much as possible and end all investments in coal and tar sands by the end of the year.