Jobs up but on the slide

JOB cuts are coming thick and fast for companies relying on the mining industry, but official figures still show the region's coalmines employing thousands more than two years ago.

Coalmining employment in the Newcastle, Hunter and Gunnedah coalfields totalled 17,402 at the end of October, down from a peak in June of 17,727.

Most of the job losses were borne by contractors.

The total was 16,592 in October last year and 13,712 in September 2010. The peak came in June this year, at 17,727.

Prices for one-off cargoes of "spot" coal have risen slightly in recent weeks to about $US87 ($83) a tonne. But employers and union representatives alike believe the industry's job losses have accelerated since September.

Diversified Mining Services (DMS) became the latest contract company to announce job cuts this week, with about 30 people laid off from its Tomago plant.

Chief executive Simon Jeffery said DMS had previously laid off nearly 50 employees from other sites in the Hunter and, like other mining companies, it was needing to "right-size" its business.

Sandvik Mining axed another nine jobs this week from its Heatherbrae site, taking the total since late last month to 73.

The Newcastle Herald reported on Monday that Queensland company Mastermyne was cutting 130 positions at Centennial's Newstan mine.

Australian Industry Group regional manager Adrian Price said companies working with the coal industry had laid off up to 10 per cent of their workforces in recent months.

The depth of the downturn had caught employers unawares, he said. And Hunter companies had to work out what to do if the cuts in coal prices were longer term and not temporary.

He said Australia could learn from Germany's success at retaining its place as a manufacturing powerhouse, despite its high costs.

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