The Blackwater community have put their fists up, ready for a fight.
The tightknit central Queensland town have been hit with several blows with Wesfarmers announcing 50 permanent jobs would be slashed from it’s Curragh Mine in July, and the operation’s major contractor, Theiss, advised of up to 100 more jobs to be axed just last week.
The biggest blow, however, was the news that mining giant BMA Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance would axe 306 permanent positions at it’s Blackwater Mine, outsourcing those positions to contractors.
The cuts have cast a dark shadow over the Central Highlands community, who relies heavily on the mining industry to not only supply jobs to support their families, but coach football teams, teach children and provide products and services to the region.
Fears of Blackwater turning into a ghost town are becoming more real, and Central Highlands Regional Council mayor Peter Maguire said residents are “worried about their town”.
“People are certainly concerned with the downsizing… but they are out there supporting their community and each other in many different ways,” Mr Maguire said.
“Job cuts of any kind are not nice for any community or region and so for Blackwater it will be difficult, in particular, for small businesses, schools, and child and daycare centres, as well as for sporting and recreational clubs, as far as volunteers go.”
CFMEU district president Stephen Smyth said the announcement has left the community upset and unsure about their futures.
“People undertaking interviews have been told they will be employed as casuals and a decision on any permanent roles will be made at the discretion of Downer – so the position put by BMA that nothing will change is incorrect and they know it. So the community have every right to be upset and unsure about the future,” Mr Smyth said.
“The loss of permanent secure jobs are jobs lost forever, and families affected are those who have homes and built lives in this community.
“This will bring a loss of services and other problems to Blackwater and surrounding areas. This will mean no opportunities for apprentices or trainees…”
Mr Smyth said mental health among the community is a huge issue, as residents deal with job insecurity and unemployment.
“The pressure, which will be applied both now and after BMA decision is complete, will have a massive effect,” he said.
“When you’re employed in a permanent and secure job, it delivers dignity and respect and security. You know that at least you can plan for the future and your family is fine.
“With a casual/contractor role you have no certainty or security in the workplace.”
Blackwater residents have called on the state and federal governments to take action to save local jobs, vowing to stand up and keep fighting for their town.
“They are a strong close knit community and will continue the fight. They don’t want to see their community disappear and they want to continue to raise their families in this town,” Mr Smyth said.
“They, like most working Australians, just want a fair go in life and the workplace. This is being ripped away from them because as BMA have told us the Blackwater mine is profitable but just not profitable enough.
“This is a real kick in the guts for everyone from the workers to small businesses. The community have delivered a letter to the CEO of BHP who has refused to respond or reply.
“They have started a community Facebook page to spread the message and they are currently considering the next options about the lack of response from BHP and the way to bring the community together on this. The general Central Queensland region is also involved in this fight.
“It is a disgrace that no one from the State Government or Federal Government has come out and condemned the unaustralian behaviour and pure focus on greed by BMA (BHP).
“Everyone is warming to this fight and this is far from over.”
With ‘For Sale’ signs dug into the ground in front of almost 194 empty houses, as well as 90 rentals, it is clear the cuts have forced families to pack up and leave.
But Mr Maguire said the drop of housing prices is an opportunity for people to enter the real estate market.
“Council continues to invest in the town and, in particular, are planning for the construction of a new aquatic centre to ensure facilities are modern and up-to-date, and all the time ensuring the town is attractive for people to live and invest in,” he said.
“Maintaining the social fabric of all our towns is very important and ensuring their long term economic sustainability is essential during these tough times.”