MORE than 2200 workers have been retrenched or made redundant in the Hunter in the past 12 months.
But this figure – the total of mass lay-offs reported by the Newcastle Herald – is just the tip of the iceberg, with many more job losses escaping attention and unions predicting more bad news ahead.
And while the region’s unemployment figures are on the rise, particularly in the Hunter Valley, a leading economist believes the true picture is even worse, with many people giving up on trying to get a job as the mining and manufacturing downturns deepen.
In the past week, almost 200 jobs have been cut – 160 at Mount Arthur coalmine at Muswellbrook and 30 at Arrium’s Waratah plant.
Last month, ship builer Forgacs and equipment maker Sandvik announced a combined total of 200 job losses.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics data for May showed the unemployment rate was 9.2per cent in the Hunter Valley and 4.7per cent in Newcastle-Lake Macquarie.
But Professor Bill Mitchell, from the University of Newcastle’s Centre for Full Employment and Equity, believes this understates the true picture.
Taking into account the ‘‘hidden workforce’’ of those who have given up on looking for work, Professor Mitchell believes the real unemployment rate for the Hunter Valley to be 16per cent, and 12per cent for Newcastle-Lake Macquarie.
He pointed out that there had been a “dramatic” drop in the number of people participating in the workforce from September 2013 to May this year.
“The labour market has contracted very quickly,” he said.
“It is quite dramatic.
“It’s unusual but not necessarily surprising because of what is happening in the mining sector, which is very volatile.
“Typically mining booms are very short-lived and deliver unbelievable agony when they come to an end.
“This boom has gone on for quite a long time but it is clearly ending.”
Professor Mitchell also pointed out that to be considered “employed” a person only had to work one hour a week.
He said these figures, therefore, didn’t take into account people getting their working hours reduced in the region.
One of the biggest hits to the region came in May when Brazilian mining company Vale revealed 500 jobs would be permanently lost as a result of the closure of the Camberwell open-cut mine and the Glennies Creek underground mine.
Singleton Chamber of Commerce president Ryan Fitzpatrick is seeing first-hand the pain being felt in his town.
He said that for every job lost in the mines, there were five others that would go as a “flow-on effect”.
For instance, he noted that Mount Thorley Warkworth mine had spent close to $80million last year with 130 businesses in the Singleton community alone.
“For every full-time employee being lost on the site, it impacts other companies,” he said.
“In the Singleton region, the impact is being seen here.
“We’ve had about 15 small-to-medium enterprise businesses close in the past two years.
“It’s the regional centres that are getting hit the hardest but I believe the flow-on effect is being felt right through to the coast.
“The downturn has been slowly progressing and the longer it goes the more impact it is having.
“I’ve been in the industry for a while now and it’s the worst I’ve seen.”
Hunter Business Chamber chief executive Kristen Keegan backs a push to get the state government to build new trains, worth $2.8billion in the Hunter, rather than purchasing them overseas.
“It’s a really serious issue when people lose their jobs in this sort of way,” she said.
“Hunter-based manufacturers are generally really closely intertwined with the mining industry.
“Down the supply chain smaller businesses are experiencing it to.
“We are all intertwined with the mining industry.
“It would be difficult to pin down a number of job losses because there are so many.”
Newcastle Trades Hall secretary Gary Kennedy predicts there is going to be more job losses felt in the region with a “rocky 18 months ahead”.
“Absolutely, there’s no doubt in my mind that the unemployment rate is on the rise,’’ he said.
“There’s no real support for manufacturing at all.
“All this infrastructure that’s been promised by the state government, let’s get it started to create some jobs and support industry in general.”
Upper Hunter MP George Souris said he had noticed the impact of unemployment, particularly in Singleton, Muswellbrook, Denman, Aberdeen and Scone.
“Everyone is aware of the high dollar and the low international coal prices but everyone is also aware that demand for export volumes remains strong so it is a matter of cutting costs and weathering the storm that is and has always been the boom and bust cycles of the coal industry,” he said.
Mr Souris said the time for diversification of the economy was now.
“Communities that pursue aged services, tourism, services generally, retailing and recreation, as well as ensuring there are adequate education and medical facilities, will emerge stronger from the downturn,” he said.
Australian Manufacturing Workers Union organiser, Daniel Wallace, said the government needed to start talking to employers more because the current climate was so uncertain.
He said there needed to be more reliability with contracts being awarded in Australia and less gaps of time between them so the workforce kept its skill base up.
“The biggest issue faced in the industry is the certainty of contracts,” he said.
“Companies have gone and developed new technology only to be told with a change of government they are no longer required.”
Hunter CMFEU president Peter Jordan said he was concerned about a trend of mines letting full-time permanent employees go and replacing them with casual labour.
12 months of job losses in the Hunter
BHP announces it will shed 163 mining jobs in the Hunter
Arrium (formerly OneSteel) announces 30 more redundancies from its Waratah operation
Forgacs confirms plans for 100 redundancies from its Tomago and Carrington shipyards
Sandvik says 103 jobs will go from its Heatherbrae business
Powerserve Group says 178 jobs will go from its Thornton headquarters and Singleton office
BHP announces it will shed another 50 contract jobs at its Mount Athur coalmine
QantasLink says 25 workers will be retrenched at Newcastle Airport
Bradken announces jobs will go from its office at Steel River in Mayfield
Brazilian mining company Vale confirms about 500 jobs will be permanently lost as a result of the closure of two Integra mines in the Hunter Valley
Rail company Pacific National cuts about 45 Hunter jobs
Arrium confirms it will cut 120 jobs from its Waratah workforce
Glencore announces it is shutting its Ravensworth underground mine on a “care and maintenance” basis, costing about 130 jobs
Rail manufacturer Downer EDI says it will cut 190 workers from its operations in Cardiff
Chain Valley Colliery announces plans to cut 73 jobs
Closure of Shell’s Hamilton terminal announced meaning 6 operators lose their jobs
The Drayton coalmine, near Muswellbrook, says it is reducing its roster and will have to cut staff as a result of delays in the approval of the proposed Drayton South extension
Carlton & United Breweries confirms it is shutting the Bluetongue Brewery on the Central Coast meaning 64 job losses
About 36 Hunter TAFE jobs are on the chopping block due to budget cuts
Downer EDI’s Cardiff rail operation lays off 19 casual employees
Kellogg ANZ closes snack food operations on the Central Coast meaning 100 jobs cut
Caterpillar distributor WesTrac says 48 jobs will go from Hunter operations
UGL retrenches at least 43 people from its Broadmeadow rail yard
About 34 state government jobs go as Attorney-General’s department centralises its forum sentencing program, closing 12 regional offices including Newcastle, Maitland and Gosford
Centennial Coal retrenches 40 workers from its mines in Lake Macquarie
About 40 staff from Cypress Lakes Resort in Pokolbin lose their jobs
Almost 40 workers at Treloar Group’s Rutherford manufacturing plant lose their jobs
Caterpillar Global Mining at Beresfield cuts 57 jobs at the site, unable to rule out further redundancies
UGL cuts another 20 electrician jobs at its Broadmeadow works
Newcastle-based engineering firm Bradken flags more job losses to deal with a slowing mining sector
It’s reported that at least a dozen Hunter jobs are at risk after scrap and recycling company CMA Corporation and eight of its subsidiaries went into voluntary administration
Staff at the Hunter Valley tourism and visitor information centre on Wine Country Drive at Pokolbin lose their jobs
Telstra’s customer service delivery centre in Newcastle tells 54 workers their jobs are one the line due to the company shifting work offshore
Forgacs Group says it will shut one of its Newcastle engineering sites, with an estimated loss of 15 to 20 jobs