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BHP slashes more Australian coal jobs

Slumping coal prices and weak Asian demand are forcing one the world’s biggest resource companies to lay off more than 200 employees at an Australian coal mine.

BHP Billiton (ASX:BHP) said on Friday that it would cut 230 jobs at its Saraji mine in Queensland, which it owns with Japanese trading house Mitsubishi Corp, Reuters reported.

Saraji produces up to 8 million tonnes of coking coal per year.

The company said the move isn’t an indication that the mine will close, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. 

BHP has already closed two other mines in Australia – Norwich Park and the Gregory open-cut mine in 2012. But it also opened a new mine, the $1.4 billion Daunia project, in 2013. Daunia is expected to produce 4 million tonnes of metallurgical coal per year.

Australia has been hit with a slew of coal mine staff reductions and closures over the past few years, and it’s clearly not over. Just last week America’s Peabody Energy warned that some Australian mines were unsustainable at current prices.

“While there is a degree of optimism in the metallurgical market that 2014 could be the year of price recovery, it should not be forgotten that market fundamentals, if anything, continue to get worse,” analysts at Australian investment bank Macquarie wrote in a note to clients, The Australian reported last week.

The Australian economy is highly dependent on the black rock: coal is Australia’s second-biggest export commodity and the industry is one of the country’s largest employers.

A recent study from Oxford University – commissioned by HSBC’s Climate Change Centre of Excellence – speculated that Australia’s coal investments are at risk of becoming ‘stranded assets’ as China tries to curb its coal consumption. Energy giant BP also predicts slowing demand for coal.