Health Minister Paul Lucas.
Health Minister Paul Lucas. Drew Cratchley

BHP Billiton cuts 1100 from mine workforce

THE global financial crisis collided head-on with Queensland yesterday, and among the casualties were more than 1100 mining staff.

BHP Billiton, which owns 50 per cent of BMA, announced a massive cut to its workforce that amounted to about 6 per cent of its staff - 300 permanent workers and more than 700 contractors.

The company owns eight mines in the region, including Blackwater, Goonyella-Riverside, Peak Downs, Saraji, Norwich Park, the Gregory Joint Venture, South Walker Creek and Poitrel.

A spokesperson yesterday said BMA was not ready to release the details of how many would be cut from each site but said the chopping would not be quick nor painless.

“They will come over the next six months,” the spokesperson said. “They will be spread out.”

Before yesterday, more than 500 miners had lost jobs - now that number has tripled.

“It's a black day,” said Susan Houston, the director of regional development who has been heading our Rapid Response office since its inception.

Only a week ago, Ms Houston was optimistic about linking up newly jobless miners with more work but now she just sounded exhausted.

“It's hard when something like this happens, to maintain optimism. You lose one job and it's devastating for a family. But you lose 1000 and that's difficult for a whole region.”

Ms Houston said she had been given “intelligence” on Tuesday afternoon that an announcement was going to be made but had no idea it would be this bad.

“They're real people who need real assistance. And we can't say it will be the last announcement.”

Acting Premier Paul Lucas said the government could not control employment but was working hard to stimulate the economy and create work.

“It's a devastating situation to be placed out of a job - these are good, decent hardworking people,” he said. “Fortunately Queensland and Australia are in a far better way than other places but that doesn't have any comfort for someone who has lost a job.”

Queensland Resources Council CEO Michael Roche said the job cuts were tragic but the effects may be even worse.

“For example, in the Bowen Basin, the resources sector is responsible directly and indirectly for one in four jobs,” Mr Roche said.

It was a grim sentiment shared by Group Engineering's managing director, Allan Ruming.

“We're expecting (the bad news) will keep coming.”

He said his company was waiting to see how this “cyclone” would hit Mackay.

“Everything is just going to cut back,” he said.

“I've learned never to lose people if I can help it, but if it gets worse, you have to make unsavoury decisions about who stays.”

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