Rising production costs and the collapse in the coal price has exacerbated the problem, leaving suppliers and contractors having to discount their offerings to remain competitive, QRC chief executive Michael Roche said.
“Based on public statements and information provided to QRC, we estimate the Queensland coal industry has been forced to shed between four and five thousand positions over the past few months,” he said.
“These losses have hit contractors the hardest and extend from the coalface to head office.”
Last week a spokesperson for Anglo American Metallurgical Coal confirmed to ILN that there would be job losses at its Grasstree mine but the numbers of employees and contractors affected could not be confirmed as it was still working through a review process at the site.
“Grasstree mine has completed an organisational review due to current market conditions and changed its rostering requirements,” she said.
“As a result of this, some contractor and workforce roles will be reduced over coming weeks and some redundancies will be issued.
“Anglo American is working closely with our employee representatives and our workforce throughout this process.”
In the past, export industries such as coal have been insulated to some extent by a corresponding fall in the value of the dollar, but Australia’s high interest rates and Triple-A credit rating have cancelled out this prospect, according to Roche.
“In the meantime, wage and materials costs in Queensland coal mines have continued to soar,” he said.
“With the current price and cost imbalance we can expect a continuing focus on reducing costs across the board, including an expectation that suppliers of goods and services will ‘sharpen their pencils’ on price.”
Queensland coal producers also need to cover the added costs of the higher coal royalties that came into effect last month.
Roche said the only bright spot for Queensland was the much-maligned coal-seam gas industry which added some 7,000 employees and contractors to its ranks in the first half of 2012.
“From all reports, the gas sector in Queensland has continued to recruit strongly in the second half of 2012, providing an important buffer to pressures elsewhere on the state’s resources sector,” he said.
Roche said there were signs that global coal prices may have “bottomed out” and that a recent strengthening in export volumes through Queensland ports was also encouraging.
“I think we are also seeing in the wake of the US election and new political leadership in China signs of a more optimistic outlook framed around rapidly growing consumerism in Asia,” he said.
Roche said that while he remained optimistic for the long-term, the message to him from the chief executives of Queensland’s coal companies was that they are digging in for a very challenging 2013 where the focus will stay on reducing costs and re-building export volumes.