500 jobs are set to be slashed in the Hunter Valley as two major coal mines are placed into care and maintenance.
Integra, a subsidiary of Brazilian miner Vale, made the shock announcement over the weekend.
It said the Integra coal complex, which includes the Camberwell open-cut and Glennies Creek underground mines, were no longer economically viable.
The 118 workers at Glennies Creek have been asked to stay at home on full pay, while employees at Camberwell are still working for now, The Newcastle Herald reported.
CMFUE district president Peter Jordan said workers were shocked about the decision.
"The workers are all in shock at the moment and the anger is starting to set in, there's no doubt about that," Jordan said.
‘‘We’ve only seen relatively small lay-offs until now. We haven’t seen a lay-off of this size for a long time.
‘‘You really have to feel for those people who have families to look after because there are not many opportunities in the industry at the moment.’’
Singleton Chamber of Commerce president Ryan Fitzpatrick said it would not just be direct employees who suffer as a result of Integra’s decision.
‘‘Integra has been here for a long time. It won’t take long before the effects of this flow through to the businesses that supply the mines,” Fitzpatrick said.
‘‘This is a devastating blow.”
Coal prices have dropped more than 30 per cent over the past two years, forcing many companies to reassess their operations.
Multi-national miner Glencore announced production will be suspended at its Hunter Valley coal mine Ravensworth mine from September.
Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon said job losses would affect the entire community.
‘‘Unfortunately we are about to get a taste of what the Hunter’s economy would be like without a strong coalmining industry,’’ he said.
‘‘It is not just the direct jobs – it’s also the manufacturers and support industries, the petrol stations, the sandwich shops, and many other businesses which rely on mining.’’
“When big mining companies like Vale stop and start production they are playing with the livelihoods of mineworkers, their families and communities," the CFMEU's Peter Jordan stated.
“People deserve a full explanation of Vale's intentions.”
The CFMEU will meet with the company on Wednesday before workers are given formal notice about their futures on Friday.
“We will be seeking guarantees that if production is resumed at Glennies Creek and Camberwell after a period of care and maintenance, current employees are given first option on jobs," Jordan said.
“Vale must not be allowed to use a break in production to replace a local, permanent workforce with a casualised, commuting workforce.”