Colette Landolt

Coalmines ramp up exports

QUEENSLAND coal mines are pumping up their exports, with BHP Billiton reporting an increase in production for the past three months.

The same period in 2012 was marred by consistent and damaging industrial action for BHP from a trio of coalminer unions.

The union campaign for a better enterprise bargaining agreement hit the mining giant with strikes, stop-work meetings and regular appearances before the Fair Work Commission.

The two-year spat affected all eight of BHP's Central Queensland coalmines before it was resolved in July last year.

BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance - the group's Queensland coal arm - is now pushing an agenda of  "sweating the asset", an industry term relating to increasing productivity from workers and machinery at its suite of operations.

The focus is helping BMA squeeze a record-breaking amount of coal from its Peak Downs and South Walker mines, enough to compensate for what it lost by closing its Norwich Park and Crinum operations last year.

First coal was sent from the new Daunia project and BMA's expansion of Broadmeadow in this latest quarter.

Results were equally upbeat from Rio Tinto, which published its latest figures on Tuesday night.

Rio's Clermont thermal coal mine dug up an extra 67% this quarter compared to the same time in 2012.

Its steel-making coalmines produced 12% less but Rio blames the fall on maintenance done on infrastructure at its Kestrel mine.

An expansion for Kestrel - finished this month - is now ramping up as the current pits are wound down.

Rio has three mines in Central Queensland's Bowen Basin.

Both BHP and Rio have set ambitious targets for their Australian operations as coal prices and higher costs cut into profit margins.

In the past 15 months alone, more than 7000 jobs have been lost from Queensland mines.