PHOTO: Des Ryan moved to Cessnock to run the Railway Hotel, but says business has slowed down.(ABC News: Susan Lannin)
Coal communities in NSW’s Hunter Valley trying to survive the mining slowdown
Around 30,000 jobs have gone from the mining industry across Australia over the past year because of the end of the mining investment boom and a slump in the price of commodities like coal and iron ore.
In New South Wales, more than 4,000 jobs have been lost in the coal industry over the past two years.
Machine operator Brent Nolan, 30, comes from a long line of coal miners.
“My father was a coal miner, my grandfather was a coal miner and apart from that the financial reward was pretty good,” he told the ABC.
But Mr Nolan lost his job in late October at a Yancoal Australia mine in the Hunter Valley, NSW’s major coal mining region.
“I was coming off night shift and I was driving home,” he said.
“I just got a phone call saying that I had been made redundant and my services were no longer required.
“It’s pretty tough when you are driving home that morning from a hard night’s work and just to be told, just like that, that’s it.”
Matt Lightfoot, an electrical apprentice at a Rio Tinto mine in the Hunter Valley, was made redundant earlier this month.
The 21-year-old told the ABC he was very surprised to be tapped on the shoulder, because he is one year away from finishing his four-year apprenticeship.
“I just got called into a meeting out of the blue in the afternoon, walked in and was informed that my apprenticeship had been suspended,” Mr Lightfoot said.
“I was a pretty shocked and a bit disappointed. I’d say that I wouldn’t be able to continue in the mining industry but that’s the times at the moment.”
Glencore shuts down 13 mines for Christmas break
Thermal coal, used to make power, has dropped by more than half since 2011 and is now just over $US60 a tonne.
The main reason is that supply is outstripping demand, pushing down the price.
Mines are laying off staff and temporarily mothballing production.
Big miner Glencore is shutting down its mines in NSW and Queensland for three weeks over Christmas, with more than 8,000 workers forced to take annual leave.
Glencore is Australia’s largest coal producer with 13 mining operations across both states.
Des Ryan, who moved to the Hunter Valley four months ago to run the Railway Hotel in Cessnock, said local businesses in the region were also being hurt by the mining slowdown.
“We rely on the local businesses around here and if the mining is the one supporting and structuring those local businesses then we’re going to have an effect on our trade and basically it’s going to have a negative impact on the area,” Mr Ryan said.
He said his customers were spending less because of the downturn and coming in less often for a drink.
“They are looking for the cheaper options. Really watching their money,” Mr Ryan said.
“We’re doing cheap meals at the moment so food is busy. Bar’s gone down a little bit so far that we noticed, when it should have really picked up.
“It’s very hard to predict anything at the moment being Christmas. But I think we’ll see the flow-on effect hurting a lot more in January and February.”
Singleton council injecting millions to diversify town’s economy
Singleton deputy mayor Godfrey Adamthwaite said his town had also been hit by the closure of mines because of the drop in the price of coal.
“Mostly the downturn of the mines has really affected the employment, about 30 per cent of the workforce in the mines in this area come from the Singleton area,” he said.
“I don’t think its right at the bottom yet.”
Two of Mr Adamthwaite’s children, who were employed in the mining industry, also lost their jobs and now work in different industries.
“I don’t think there are many families in the town that wouldn’t have a family member or a friend that [has] been affected by the loss of employment,” he said.
“There are some good stories, there’s people getting work, but it’s not as good as it used to be.”
But Mr Adamthwaite said while some businesses had closed down because of the mining downturn, others had opened up in Singleton, including a new car dealership and a medical clinic.
He said Singleton Council, with help from the state and federal governments, is spending millions of dollars on projects to diversify the economy including a project to upgrade the town centre.
The deputy mayor, who is a former mine worker, still thinks that coal is king and that Singleton will survive the hard times in the coal industry.
“Singleton is not going to become a ghost town. You’re not going to be able to shoot a shotgun up the main street. I think it’ll come back,” Mr Adamthwaite said.
Mr Lightfoot wants to complete his apprenticeship and is hoping to find an electrician who will take him on for his final year.
“I definitely will just try and find a domestic electrician around town to finish my time off,” he said.
But Mr Nolan has given up on mining and is heading to Brisbane to join his girlfriend, who had to leave the region to get a job as a civil engineer.
“If a job made itself available I’d go back to the mines in a heartbeat,” he said.
“I loved my mates I worked with and I loved the job.
“The reality is I don’t think in the short term there [are] any mining jobs so I may as well go do some study and get some more skills.”