In an echo of the panic scaling-down of mining operations during the global financial crisis, Rio Tinto has reacted to the plunging thermal coal price in Australian dollar terms, which is now near the low of $77 a tonne reached in 2008.
“Rio Tinto is looking at ways to reduce costs at Clermont mine, to improve its competitiveness in an environment of significantly lower thermal coal prices,” a company spokesperson said in a statement to ILN.
“A review is underway and although the details are to be worked out, it will unfortunately mean redundancies will be required.
“We do not take this decision lightly and are committed to keeping our employees informed and providing support to those affected.”
Clermont, which produced 5.8â€‰million tonnes last year and has a projected 17-year mine life, has a high fly-in fly-fly-out number of employees because of the severe shortage of local housing.
Production was expected to peak at more than 12 million tonnes of export coal and 100,000 tonnes for domestic customers each year when it was expected to reach full capacity in 2013.
According to its sustainable development site report, the mine employed 778 people in 2011, made up of 624 men and 154 women.
In approving the project the Queensland Coordinator-General's report estimated the Clermont project could support 3,800 jobs throughout the Queensland economy during operations with more than 3,000 in the Mackay region.
When former Queensland Premier Anna Bligh opened the mine in October 2010 she said women make up more than 27% of the site's workforce which is well above the state industry average of 11%.
"This mine has won a number of state and national awards for its proactive approach to recruiting women, particularly in non-traditional roles including truck drivers and operators,” she said at the time.
"And indigenous women make up 8.5 per cent of the female workforce.
"Rio Tinto is to be applauded for making these conscious decisions to broaden its employment base."