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95 mining jobs cut at BHP coal mine

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The cuts keep coming at BHP Billiton's Mount Arthur coalmine, which will lose another 95 jobs to go in weeks to come.

The BHP mine near Muswellbrook lost 163 roles last month, while 50 contractors were temporarily laid off in June due to slow truck maintenance.

Job cuts in recent months will slash Mount Arthur’s workforce of employees and core contractors from about 1900 down to 1650.

BHP is in the middle of a wide-reaching productivity drive that has already seen job cuts at its other coal mines, as well as its iron ore operations in Western Australia, and the company has also warned that this may not be the end of the cuts.

A spokesperson for BHP said the company had reviewed all of its mining operations and would "continue to assess opportunities and make any necessary adjustments".

The Newcastle Herald reported yesterday that most of the 95 to go are production workers.

The earlier 163 job cuts are understood to have been mainly from the coal-handling plant and maintenance sections, which BHP said was an attempt to "reset" the cost base at the operation.

Mount Arthur is one of the biggest open-cut coal mines in NSW, with approval to produce 36 million tonnes a year.

Estimates show Mt Arthur has more than one billion tonnes of reserves, and the NSW Department of Planning has recommended its approval be extended from 2022 to 2026.

BHP’s NSW coal boss Peter Sharpe said last month that the company had advised employees of the results of an internal review, as the implementation plans for the coming months, which called for focus on productivity gains and cost reductions on site.

“The coal industry continues to experience difficult market conditions, including continuing low coal prices and a high Australian dollar and in order to remain globally competitive, the cost base of our Mt Arthur Coal operations must be reset,” Sharpe said.

“The purpose of this transformation exercise is to ensure that our operations remain sustainable for the long-term, and we will continue to assess opportunities and make the necessary adjustments.”

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.

The presently strengthening Australian dollar does not bode well for the future of employment in coal, which is already suffering due to low spot prices for thermal coal, which have dropped to $US67 ($71.20) a tonne.

Many coal companies are struggling to cut expenditure, as coal spot prices drop below production costs for some mines.

Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union district president Peter Jordan said earlier this month that BHPs behaviour over earlier job cuts was appalling as workers had found out from the media of their retrenchment, rather than from BHP Billiton.

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