UPDATE 3.30pm: The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) has blasted BHP Billiton for slashing 170 jobs at its Mt Whaleback mine in Newman, arguing the mining giant could "easily absorb fluctuating iron ore prices".
CFMEU mining and energy WA secretary Gary Wood said the decision showed that BHP was "putting its ruthless cost-cutting drive above any commitment to employees and regional communities".
“Forecasts show BHP could easily absorb fluctuations in the iron ore price, maintain employee numbers and remain profitable," he said.
“But instead, it is throwing workers and families into turmoil because of its ruthless focus on cutting costs to improve shareholder returns."
Mr Wood said mining should benefit the entire community, not just shareholders, and BHP should be fighting to keep its people in work rather than throwing them on the scrapheap at the first opportunity.
He said the company had treated employees appallingly throughout the process.
“Workers are only finding out whether they still have a job when they turn up for their shift," Mr Wood said.
“Many of those losing their jobs live locally and will have to uproot their families in search of a new job.
“We should expect better from BHP.”
BHP declined to respond directly to the union's claims but a spokeswoman said the business regularly undertook reviews to ensure that it was operating as efficiently as possible.
"This includes reviewing the size and structure of our workforce to ensure it supports the delivery of our productivity agenda," she said.
"We have been open with our employees about the work being done to improve productivity.
"In situations where employees are impacted, we will undertake every effort to assist them throughout the process and to seek redeployment opportunities where possible."
It is understood affected employees may be able to apply for fly-in, fly-out roles at BHP's Jimblebar and Eastern Ridge projects.
The Newman job losses follow last week's news that the mining giant had cut 100 jobs from its Perth headquarters in the city.
BHP and other iron ore miners are looking to cut costs as iron ore prices have tumbled below $US100 in recent weeks.
However it is understood the mining giant has been at pains to insist the recent job losses are not linked to commodity prices.
BHP shares last changed hands for $36.24 on Friday.