Perth's contracting sector was awash with speculation last night that BHP Billiton was poised to cut jobs on its Pilbara iron ore expansion projects, including the doomed Port Hedland outer harbour development.
The speculation came ahead of today's formal opening of BHP's new Perth head office by chief executive Marius Kloppers and Premier Colin Barnett.
BHP is yet to announce its intentions for the outer harbour, which analysts expect to cost up to $US20 billion as well as associated mine developments.
The once sought-after development appears increasingly on the nose given BHP's subdued outlook for global economic growth, and iron ore prices in particular.
Most of the expansion work on the design and execution side would have been carried out by contractors and there have been unconfirmed reports that contractors have begun laying off staff after being told by BHP that expansion work was officially on hold.
Speaking after a _WestBusiness _Leadership Matters presentation in Perth last month, Mr Kloppers hinted at the outer harbour's fate when he described BHP's Pilbara iron ore construction workforce of about 6000 as an "optimal" number.
Contractors contacted by _WestBusiness _ last night spoke of a wide-spread expectation that Mr Kloppers may reveal a delayed outer harbour timetable this week.
One contractor, who asked not to be named, said his firm had rearranged its workers after BHP indicated it would not sanction the outer harbour by the end of the year.
A spokeswoman for BHP Billiton last night confirmed the timetable for major projects was under review but would not comment specifically on jobs at contractors.
"In relation to your question about possible job losses . . . clearly there may be some impact on headcount in some areas," the spokeswoman said. "Iron ore projects in execution will continue as planned and represent the largest amount of work the Western Australian Iron Ore growth program has had . . . in its history."