Australia’s top three coal producers, Glencore, BHP and Yancoal, recorded hefty profits last year from coking and thermal coal. These three companies control well over half of Australian black coal production and all have said they are enjoying great cash margins (reflecting profit after operating costs) of about 45%.
The exit of Rio Tinto from the global coal industry has seen it replaced in Australia by Yancoal and an even-bigger Glencore. Rio clearly thinks the long term prospects for coal are poor, but right now it has said good bye to the healthy profits that the coal majors are making.
Last week, global mining giant Rio Tinto announced the development of a new $3.5 billion, 43 million tonnes per annum Koodaideri iron ore mine in the Pilbara – to replace production from depleting mines nearby and position the company for further growth. But the company’s job forecasts for the new mine show it will deliver far fewer jobs than current operations.
Australia’s coal-ﬁred power stations will all close in the next two or three decades. We know this because the companies that operate the 23 power stations currently operating nation-wide have told us so.
Despite the empty rhetoric of some, it is unlikely that the economic case for investing in new coal-ﬁred power stations in Australia will stack up. Those who currently own and operate coal power stations have no plans to build new ones.
The employer community is putting on quite a show about a recent Federal Court decision that a casual labour hire coal miner employed full-time for years was not really a casual under the law and was therefore owed some paid leave.
They claim the WorkPac v Skene decision is a disaster due to the vast extent to which Australian businesses use casuals in regular, on-going work, that will lead to a multi-billion dollar outbreak of worker ‘double-dipping’ on casual loadings and paid leave.
Now it has emerged that WorkPac, the labour hire company at the heart of this case, is lobbying politicians to support legislative change negating the decision because it would be unfair on small to medium businesses.
Recent research found that just 5 out of 59 major solar, bioenergy and geothermal companies meet four basic criteria to protect communities and workers in their projects. Almost half appear to have no basic protections in place. Their record on respect for union rights – on freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively – was especially weak.
Further, some of the companies that did have detailed human rights policies also had a track record of more allegations of human rights abuses – showing a disconnect between policy and practice.
By Peter Colley, National Research Director
One of my sayings about my own profession is that most economists are wrong most of the time. And especially with forecasts. So it was with a forecast of mine back in 2000 that the truck fleets of open cut mines would be mostly automated by 2010.
That forecast was way off, but driverless truck fleets are indeed being implemented across the iron ore industry – just a decade later than I thought! Turns out it has been a great deal more difficult to achieve the needed level of safety, and of reliable operation, than anticipated. Rio Tinto is a leader in the field, but they have now spent a decade automating their train operations in the Pilbara and are just now reaching the point of having driverless trains operating with full loads. It’s taken them several more years and several hundred million more dollars than expected.
The CFMEU has made more progress this week in our fight against exploitation of casual labour hire workers in the mining industry.
A Federal Court order to quash One Key’s substandard RECS agreement follows a lengthy legal dispute over the labour hire company’s business model of driving down costs through cutting workers’ pay and job security. The Court agreed with us that the RECS agreement voted up by just three people was dodgy, left employees worse off and was not legally valid.
Energy sources of the future need to be low or zero carbon if they are to be used in a world that has greenhouse gas emissions set to zero* to limit global warming.
It is this constraint that has seen the future of thermal coal brought into question because, as with all fossil fuels, the burning of coal for power generation releases lots of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
But there was good news last week from Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, who told the Energy Ministers of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) last week that Victorian brown coal could be a cost-competitive feedstock for the production of hydrogen gas.
August 2018: Australian coal exports reached $60.1 billion in 2017-18, the highest ever level and only just behind iron ore exports at $61.4 billion. According to figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, resources exports accounted for $220 billion of total exports of $400 billion that includes all goods and services (like education and tourism). On these numbers coal accounted for 27% of all resources exports, and 15% of all international trade by Australia with the world.
The Executive today pays tribute to all workers’ resilience and determination to get a better deal after Hazelwood closes – you have stood up and fought when governments, investors and business would otherwise have done nothing.