5000 jobs lost and 20 coal mines closed in recent years, say official figures

MORE than one in five NSW coal mining jobs have gone since employment peaked four years ago, the industry body Coal Services has revealed.

A summary of statistics for the 2015-16 financial year also shows the number of coal mines in NSW has fallen from a modern peak of 62 in June 2010 to 40 in June 2016.

Coal Services, formerly the Joint Coal Board, said the NSW coal industry’s production workforce – all those working in or around a mine or coal washery – was the full-time equivalent of 19,388 production workers on June 30, compared with a peak of 24,972 in June 2012.

As the Newcastle Herald has reported, coal companies are turning to contract labour in an effort to curb production costs, and Coal Services says contractors now account for 33 per cent of the total workforce, with 67 per cent directly employed by the owner/operator of the mine.

Coal Services says NSW coal exports fell for the first time in 15 years last financial year, dropping by 1.9 per cent to 170 million tonnes.

Overall raw coal production fell for the second consecutive year after “a decade of unprecedented growth”, with preliminary figures showing a 2.5 per cent reduction to 247 million tonnes. Underground production fell by 15 per cent while open-cut output rose by 3 per cent. Coal Services says there were 40 coal mines operating in NSW at the end of June, with five closing during the year and one new mine starting in April. Of the operating mines, 22 were open-cut, 12 were longwall underground mines and six were traditional “bord-and-pillar” underground mines.

Coal Services says two areas – Gunnedah and Ulan – stand in contrast to the overall decline, with production and employment both rising noticeably. 

The state’s coal was shipped to 24 countries last financial year, with Japanese power stations and steel mills still the industry’s biggest customers, accounting for 75 million tonnes, or 44 per cent of NSW coal exports.

South Korea was the state’s second biggest customer buying 28 million tonnes or 17 per cent of total exports.

As expected after the Chinese government put restrictions on coal imports, 2015-16 shipments fell sharply, by 32 per cent, to 20 million tonnes.

With prices falling in 2015-16, NSW exports were valued at $13.2 billion, down from $14.4 billion in 2014-15. The average coal price for the year was $77.92, down by $5.58 from the previous year.

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