SINGLETON and surrounding towns were reeling last night after 500 workers were laid off at Integra Coal’s Camberwell open-cut and Glennies Creek underground mines.
The lay-off’s, among the largest in the history of mining in the region, are expected to strip millions of dollars a year from the Upper Hunter economy.
‘‘This is a devastating blow,’’ Singleton Chamber of Commerce president Ryan Fitzpatrick said.
‘‘Integra has been here for a long time. It won’t take long before the effects of this flow through to the businesses that supply the mines.’’
The falling coal price and the high Australian dollar were cited as major reasons for the decision to close the mines.
Shocked miners were told of the decision at meetings yesterday morning.
The 118 miners at the Glennies Creek underground have been told to stay at home on full pay, while those at Camberwell open-cut have been required to continue working.
Further details of when the mines will go into care and maintenance mode are expected to be revealed to employees next Friday.
The mines are owned by the Brazilian mining giant Vale, which did not comment about the closures yesterday.
Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union district president Peter Jordan said most miners were in shock following the announcement.
‘‘We’ve only seen relatively small lay-offs until now. We haven’t seen a lay-off of this size for a long time,’’ he said. ‘‘You really have to feel for those people who have families to look after because there are not many opportunities in the industry at the moment.’’
Workers were instructed not to talk to the media following yesterday’s announcement.
Many headed to the Kurri’s Chelmsford Hotel to drown their sorrow’s following their shift.
The closures follow a sustained downturn in the industry in recent times.
Swiss-based mining company Glencore announced in March that it would shut its Ravensworth underground mine in September, resulting in the loss of 130 jobs.
Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon said he was highly concerned by recent job losses. ‘‘Unfortunately we are about to get a taste of what the Hunter’s economy would be like without a strong coalmining industry,’’ he said.
‘‘It is not just the direct jobs – it’s also the manufacturers and support industries, the petrol stations, the sandwich shops, and many other businesses which rely on mining.’’
Mr Fitzgibbon said the community needed to rally behind the mining industry.
‘‘There are those who would have us withdraw from mining; I completely reject that view,’’ he said.
Coal prices have fallen by at least 30per cent in the past two years.
With the company not commenting formally on the closure, the reasons for the decision remain unclear, but industry sources have told The Newcastle Herald that the mine’s cost structure was higher than industry average.
In the latest state government coal industry profile, the Integra open-cut (also known as the Camberwell open-cut mine) had the lowest productivity of any NSW mine of its type.