Mining giant Rio Tinto has stood down up to 350 construction workers from its trouble-plagued Argyle diamond mine expansion amid fears of more job cuts across the industry.

Rio Tinto arranged three planes to fly workers to Perth within hours of breaking the news yesterday.
Most of the workers stood down were employed by subcontractors Tenix and Killarnee.

The decision comes as Rio and BHP Billiton prepare to release their half-yearly results within a fortnight, with the industry awash with speculation that more job losses will be announced.

At Perth Airport, workers said they were angry and disappointed at the cost-cutting move.

One worker said it put his future in jeopardy just before his wedding.

“Everyone was shocked, not even the bosses seemed to know it was coming,” another worker, who did not want to be named, said.

“It started off like any other day and the next thing we know, we’re on a plane back home.”

Rio and BHP are looking to trim excess fat from less successful commodities to instead focus on their successful Pilbara iron ore operations. BHP announced this week up to 100 job losses at its Olympic Dam project in South Australia.

The company would not comment on WA jobs.

The Argyle job cuts affect most of its construction workforce, which peaked at 500. None of the 750 mining workers has been sacked.

The construction workers were told that they had been suspended and would find out on Tuesday who would stay on. The Weekend West understands that most will be let go as the company decides to delay bringing on a second crusher.

First production from the mine expansion is on track for April but the delay puts in doubt its schedule to become fully operational by 2015.

The expansion was approved in 2005 as a $US760 million project but blowouts took it to $US2.2 billion.
It was seen as crucial to extend Argyle’s life and make it attractive to buyers after Rio said in July its diamond division was for sale.

The Argyle mine, home of pink diamonds, has been the linchpin of WA’s diamond industry since 1985.

The mine’s managing director, Kim Truter, said the focus was on the ramp-up to first production.

The cuts came as the Federal Government announced the mineral resources rent tax raised just $126 million in its first six months.

The West Australian

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