Mining giant BHP Billiton announced that it is slashing almost 300 jobs at its Mount Arthur coal mine in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales, blaming a sharp decline in global thermal coal prices.  Thermal coal prices have declined by 27 percent in the past 18 months.

The company announced the 290 job losses today, and the cuts will take place in the coming weeks; 230 are Mount Arthur employees under an enterprise agreement with BHP, while the remaining 60 are labor hire or contract workers.  This comes after BHP posted a loss of AU$7.8 Billion for the six months ending on 31 December.  NSW Energy Coal asset president James Palmer said the changes were essential for Mount Arthur to be commercially viable.

"Despite extensive work over the past two years to reset our production costs and safely improve the mine's productivity, Mount Arthur Coal must continue to significantly improve performance to be a globally competitive operation," said Mr. Palmer.

"The news is heartbreaking for the families who will be affected by the decision," said Muswellbrook Shire Mayor Martin Rush, as quoted by the Muswellbrook Chronicle.  "Hopefully, some of the efficiencies it is seeking to win by this latest round of cost cutting will place it into a stronger position going forward."  Mayor Rush says it is time for the New South Wales government to get involved.

"Nonetheless, our economy is changing and it is critical that the state government establish an Upper Hunter Economic Development Corporation to assist thermal coal mining communities' transition," he said.