Rio Tinto’s Blair Athol mine closes tomorrow

Rio Tinto's Blair Athol coal mine will officially shut on Friday.

The miner announced it was bringing forward the closure of the mine in August.

At the time Rio's Clermont region general manager operations Dawid Pretorius stated that "after close to three decades, Blair Athol Mine’s coal seams are largely mined out and the time has come to finish production.

"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."

Following the closure, the CFMEU was up in arms and threatened strikes, claiming that non-union members, who are on individual agreements, have been offered larger redundancy payouts.

"Depending on how long you've been at the mine, that market allowance could be up to many … thousands of dollars," CFMEU spokesperson Glenn Power said.

"It's very different for every individual or particular member but certainly there's a substantial amount of money that our members are going to go without."

Rio Tinto soon hit back, saying the packages had been negotiated in good faith.

"Rio Tinto is disappointed the CFMEU has chosen to encourage industrial action in the final weeks of operation at Blair Athol Mine," a spokesman said.

"We believe that the Blair Athol Mine Workers Enterprise Agreement, including the redundancy payments, is fair and was bargained in good faith."

Now the mine will officially shut down today, according to the Daily Mercury, however it will still take a number of years to fully rehabilitate the site and get its $84 million bond back.

The move has hit the local community hard, with many saying it is the end of an era.

"Blair Athol has been part of the community for a long time, so people are just sad," local manufacturing company owner Paul Breckon said.

"Obviously there will be people leaving town and that will affect businesses, (like) the grocery shop, the hairdressers."

Local motel owner Ian Gill added that "six months ago we were turning more people away than we could ever hope to accommodate but now that's changed. We still have very good occupancy rates but we're no longer turning away as many people as before".

However he went on to say that it is not just the closure of Blair Athol, but the closure of a number of mines in the region, such as Gregory and Norwich Park.

Around 30 workers will remain at the site, using Blair Athol's existing CHPP to process coal from the newer Clermont mine nearby.

To keep up to date with Australian Mining, subscribe to our free email newsletters delivered straight to your inbox. Click here.