- The Courier-Mail
- June 29, 2013
Coal companies adjust to new realities as gas insulates Queensland from worst of global downturn
ABOUT 7000 jobs have been lost from the state’s coal sector in the past 15 months as the boom ends and companies shut mines and scale back production, according to the industry.
In the past week about 1000 jobs disappeared as some of the world’s biggest miners, Vale, Glencore and Peabody, adjusted to the new realities of the market in which the cost of producing coal is ”line ball” with prices.
Thousands more jobs have disappeared from service companies or contractors.
Unions said the central Queensland towns of Tieri and Glenden would be devastated by the loss of about 450 jobs this week at the Oaky and Newlands mines, but have rejected any suggestion that big pay increases had been a factor.
The cost of abandoned coal and infrastructure projects is now about $10 billion in lost investment and the numbers of jobs that won’t be created would be in the thousands.
A handful of massive coal projects are also now extremely doubtful, particularly in the Galilee Basin, not just because of poor prices but also because of a lack of investment funds.
BHP Billiton’s joint venture, BMA, has also closed high-cost mines and opened others while the coal seam gas industry has sparked as many as 30,000 jobs in the past year.
Official data released this week also showed job vacancies in Queensland were up almost 5 per cent in May.
But the industry’s future remains bleak, a fact pointed out by Anglo-American which announced a coal mine it is yet to open in central Queensland has had its future profitability slashed by as much as 75 per cent by increases in taxes and royalties.
The poor outlook for the sector is driven by a collapse in prices for coking coal to $130 a tonne, well below the level of the top level of the State Government’s coal royalty of $150.
Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche said the state had been insulated to an extent by the growth in employment with CSG/LNG construction in the Surat and Bowen basins and Gladstone.
He said retiring Resources Minister Martin Ferguson was right when he said that many coal mines were now operating because they were under contract to deliver coal, otherwise they would have been mothballed.
”If the nation is to continue to enjoy the benefits of a strong resources sector, our political leaders must acknowledge our drifting international competitiveness and set about laying out policies aimed at remedying the problem,” Mr Roche said.
Despite hike coal royalties last year, Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney said the Newman Government had been working constantly over the past year to ease the pressures on the resources sector.
”We have been systematically examining the over-regulation of the sector by previous Labor governments and working with resource companies through the Resources Cabinet Committee to eliminate unnecessary imposts on the industry.
”Ill-considered measures imposed by Labor pandering to a radical greens agenda are being removed where they serve no legitimate purpose.”
Unions said the cuts to Glencore-Xstrata operations in Central Queensland were indicative of a shortsighted approach that saw jobs slashed at any dip in profits.
CFMEU Queensland senior vice president Mitch Hughes at the Newlands mine, 50 jobs will be cut immediately and another 250 by the end of the year – including underground and open cut mineworkers, mechanical and electrical tradespeople, supervisors and administrative staff. A further 150 jobs will be cut from Oaky North.
”Since Glencore merged with Xstrata last month, the company had demonstrated a ruthless and short-term approach to cost-cutting,” he said.
”Last year, Oaky North was the best-producing coal mine in Australia. You’d have to question the quality of management to have gone from that position to major cuts.”