Left out in the coal

Bengalla mine employees felt the full force of the coal industry’s downturn this week when they were told their jobs would be axed. 

The Chronicle understands that up to 18 jobs were cut from the Rio Tinto-managed mine earlier this week – most were supervisor positions and support professionals. 

It is also understood some of the  sacked employees were offered different positions within the Muswellbrook mine before taking redundancies.  

“I know that generally is what happens … if we can transfer someone to another site or another operation than we will offer that,” Rio Tinto spokesman Graham Witherspoon said.  

Rio Tinto state increasing production costs, lower coal prices and a high foreign exchange rate as reasons for cuts across all their Australian mining operations. 

And, only this week Rio Tinto chief executive Tom Albanese warned the company may cut more jobs as it tries to rein in on “unsuitable” cost rises of the past few years. 

Rio Tinto wouldn’t discuss details of this week’s job axings, or, if more job losses were expected at Bengalla or the company’s two other Hunter Valley mines – Mt Thorley, Warkworth or Hunter Valley Operations. 

“We are working to improve our competitiveness by actively seeking ways to reduce costs across our business, which unfortunately means some roles are no longer required,” Mr Witherspoon said. 

“These are not decisions we take lightly. 

“Jobs are being protected wherever possible and we are keeping employees who are directly affected informed and providing them with support.”

Muswellbrook Shire deputy mayor and council representative on the Bengalla Coal Community Consultative Committee Malcolm Ogg was annoyed he only found out about the job losses this week. 

“I am pretty peeved about it all,” Cr Ogg said. 

“It would have been nice to have been able to foreshadow these issues; instead there are now people in the Muswellbrook community that have egg on their faces because nothing was said earlier.

“The whole thing wasn’t handled very well … what it does is undermines the whole process of a consultative committee.

“There was every opportunity last week for something to be said when I chaired a consultative committee welcoming the new (Bengalla) general manager.” 

Cr Ogg also questioned the mines’ decision to cut jobs when they are in the process of putting together a development application, which has the potential to double the mines’ tonnage outage to up to 15 million tonnes. 

The Bengalla job losses come just days after Centennial Coal announced they are shutting down their Wyee and Lithgow mines, retrenching 40 people.  

Muswellbrook Shire mayor Martin Rush said the timing of  the job cuts was “disappointing”. 

But, given the job losses Cr Rush said the future of the coal industry in Muswellbrook remained strong. 

“Council has urged (Bengalla) to ensure the protection of local jobs wherever it can, and has expressed their disappointment that the company should make this latest determination in the lead-up to Christmas,” Cr Rush said. 

“(But) council remains optimistic about the immediate future of the local coal industry.”

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