ABOUT 140 people are out of work after BHP Billiton cancelled a contract with Bowditch & Partners Earthmoving at Mt Arthur Coal.
The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union said BHP had raised safety concerns in the past.
Workers were told yesterday to collect their tools after being stood down from the Muswellbrook open-cut about two weeks ago.
Bowditch companies have been supplying contractors to Mt Arthur for about 20 years.
‘‘A decision has been made to discontinue an overburden removal contract held by Bowditch & Partners at Mt Arthur Coal,’’ a BHP Billiton statement said. ‘‘The companies are working closely to minimise the impact of the decision on the contractor’s employees.’’
Overburden is dirt and rock that is blasted and hauled away to allow access to open-cut coal.
The BHP statement said Bowditch had other contracts with Mt Arthur Coal, including equipment hire and civil works, which would continue.
Bowditch would not comment on the matter other than to say the company was in discussions with representatives from Mt Arthur Coal and BHP.
CFMEU industrial research officer Keenon Endacott said safety concerns at Mt Arthur North were raised in a Fair Work Australia case the union brought against Bowditch last year.
‘‘As a result we wrote to the company, to BHP and to the state government mining inspectorate about our concerns,’’ Mr Endacott said.
BHP said it needed to keep moving overburden, and work from the Bowditch contract would be offered where possible to Upper Hunter contractors.
‘‘Mt Arthur Coal has offered affected Bowditch employees access to a range of counselling and job transition support services,’’ the statement said. ‘‘Bowditch employees will also be able to apply for vacant positions at Mt Arthur Coal in the future.’’