Miner slashes jobs

Robert Laing

Robert Laing

Job cuts in South Africa were not mentioned in mining giant BHP Billiton's announcement yesterday that it will cut its global workforce by six percent, which is about 6000 people.

BHP's Australian operations are to shed 3400 jobs, more than half of these at its unprofitable Ravensthorpe nickel mine where work has been suspended.

Chief financial officer Alex Vanselow said in a teleconference that 800 employees and 1000 contractors would be retrenched by June at Ravensthorpe.

Its metallurgical coal division in Australia will shed 1100 jobs, and other jobs will be lost when its Yabulu operation will limit minerals processing to iron ore.

Its copper mines in Chile will lay off 2000 workers and its US Pinto Valley copper mine will cut 550 positions.

The mining group's South African spokesperson Bronwyn Wilkinson said its local operations seem to have escaped. But they have already taken some pain, with several hundred jobs lost last year at BHP's Bayside aluminium smelter which had to cut back output to meet Eskom's power rationing.

"There was no mention of further South African job cuts in yesterday's announcements," Wilkinson said.

Vanselow told analysts: "These are very serious decisions. It has an impact on families, it has an impact on communities and we don't take them lightly."

BHP's total workforce is about 101000 people.

Forty-one thousand are employees and 60000 are contractors. Vanselow said 70percent of the people laid off will be contractors.

Only one mention of South Africa was made in the teleconference. An analyst asked: "And can I just check: with aluminium, I appreciate there's been enforced cuts in South Africa; is there any plan to revisit production levels in your aluminium division ..."

Vanselow replied: "We are always reviewing our production for all commodities at all operations and as demand changes or the economic environment changes, we will act accordingly."

Wilkinson said: "Just because South Africa was not mentioned on the list of countries where BHP is shedding jobs, does not necessarily mean our jobs are safe."