Rio Tinto’s Blair Athol coal mine to close

Rio Tinto has announced it will officially close its Blair Athol coal mine at the end of the year.

It comes after the miner pushed forward the date of the closure, slashed jobs at the nearby Clermont coal mine, and closes its offices in Sydney.

Blair Athol closes after nearly 30 years of production, with Clermont region general manager operations Dawid Pretorius explaining that the mine has been progressively scaling down since 2010.

"After close to three decades, Blair Athol Mine’s coal seams are largely mined out and the time has come to finish production," Pretorius said. 

"Since 2005, Rio Tinto had planned to close the mine at the end of this year and consulted with its community consultative committee and workforce.

"However, as coal prices rose in recent times we looked to extend the life of the mine by mining a poorer quality coal and harder to reach seam for a few more years; unfortunately the recent significant drop in thermal coal prices and other factors such as rising costs and the foreign exchange rate mean this is no longer a feasible option and we will keep to the original plan to finish production in 2012."

While Rio has not announced a definite closure date the miner expects it will before December.

There are currently 170 people working at the site, with an expectation of 30 roles remaining at the site after production finishes.

These will include work in the coal handling and preparation plant and rail load-out facilities, which will continue to be used for coal from the nearby Clermont mine, as well as care and maintenance work in the lead up to a rehabilitation program.

Rio says that it is putting a program in place, dubbed 'My Future', to give employees assistance with future employment.

"The majority of employees have expressed interest in taking redundancy and we will try to accommodate other preferences such as redeployment where possible," Rio stated.

Pretorius added that “we have also started holding information sessions to support family members of Blair Athol employees through the closure process and will run similar sessions with the local community."

The CFMEU''s district president Steve Smyth believes this will be one in a series of job cuts across the region."We're seeing across the board that contractors and labour hire people are unfortunately being laid off," Smyth said.

He pointed to Xstrata's coal operations as the next to follow, as its Oaky North mine restructures, with Smyth expecting hundreds of jobs to be lost.

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