BHP Billiton has slashed 170 iron ore jobs from its Mt Whaleback mine in the Pilbara as it continues to focus on cost and productivity gains.
The decision comes less than a week after BHP cut 100 people from its iron ore headquarters in Perth, however industry sources do not want the cuts blamed on the lagging price of the steelmaking ingredient.
As the mining phase moves from investment-led construction to a production focus, BHP has placed a renewed and aggressive emphasis on productivity and efficiency gains across its entire portfolio in an effort to simplify mining operations.
Sweating its Pilbara iron ore assets means BHP can get more ore on a ship at a better price, improving its bottom line.
However, ‘rationalising’ also means the company is protecting itself against iron ore price volatility, which has seen the commodity fall 30 per cent in value this year to below $100 per tonne.
The miner said a productivity focus is “not new” and was aimed at “safely improving our business and ensuring we are a competitive, world-class operation".
"BHP Billiton iron ore regularly undertakes reviews to ensure that our business is operating as efficiently as possible," a spokesperson said.
"This includes reviewing the size and structure of our workforce to ensure it supports the delivery of our productivity agenda. We have been open with our employees about the work being done to improve productivity.
“We have been open with our employees about the work being done to improve productivity.
“In situations where employees are impacted we will undertake every effort to assist them throughout the process and to seek redeployment opportunities where possible.”
The CFMEU said BHP’s decision to cut jobs showed it was "putting its ruthless cost-cutting drive above any commitment to employees and regional communities".
CFMEU mining and energy WA secretary Gary Wood accused the company of putting shareholder returns ahead of workers’ interests.
“Mining should benefit the whole community not just shareholders; and BHP should be fighting to keep its people in work rather than throwing them on the scrapheap at the first opportunity,” Wood said.
“Forecasts show BHP could easily absorb fluctuations in the iron ore price, maintain employee numbers and remain profitable.”
Woods accused the company of keeping workers in the dark about impacts to their roles.
“Workers are only finding out whether they still have a job when they turn up for their shift.
“Workers will be turning up for their shifts all week without knowing whether they’re in the firing line.
“Many of those losing their jobs live locally and will have to uproot their families in search of a new job.
“We should expect better from BHP.”
The last time hundreds of iron ore jobs were lost in Western Australia was in 2012 when the iron ore price was tracking similarly low to its current levels.
But it’s not just in its iron ore business that BHP is eyeing gains.
Its coal and aluminium arms have also seen cuts aimed at improving the books, while its Nickel West business is for sale as the company looks to offload unwanted assets.