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Rio Tinto job cuts rock Australian families

By Gabrielle Dunlevy
11 Dec 2008 5:44 PM

BRISBANE, Dec 11 AAP - Hundreds of Australian mining families face an uncertain Christmas following minerals giant Rio Tinto's decision to slash 14,000 jobs worldwide.

The company revealed on Wednesday it would slash jobs across the board, including 5,500 full-time workers, to reduce its $US41 billion ($A62.4 billion) debt by $US10 billion ($A15.2 billion).

The company has coal, alumina and bauxite operations in Queensland, iron ore operations in Western Australia, a Northern Territory bauxite mine and a majority share in Energy Resources of Australia's Ranger uranium mine.

But the extent of job losses in Australia is not yet known.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said it was a sign of the financial times.

"The government's task is to do whatever is possible to reduce the impact of the global financial crisis on Australian jobs," he said.

"And that now is brought into sharp focus again by the announcement of Rio Tinto on its own jobs cuts.

"The global financial crisis is becoming a crisis for the real economy across the world, which in turn becomes a global employment crisis as well."

Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the announcement would make many families anxious.

"Obviously it is highly distressing for everyone to see those kinds of job losses, I understand the impact that's going to have on the families and the people involved," Ms Gillard told reporters in Melbourne.

Opposition treasury spokeswoman Julie Bishop said the government must do whatever was necessary to protect jobs during the economic slowdown.

"Any Australian job losses are of concern ... hopefully these job losses are able to be replaced in other parts of the economy and people will continue to get jobs," Ms Bishop told reporters in Adelaide.

Unions called on Rio Tinto to immediately outline where it will cut jobs, to give families certainty about their future.

Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) district secretary Greg Betts said families should not be kept waiting.

"It's disgraceful they have got so many of their workforce having a very uncertain few months," Mr Betts said.

Queensland Resources Council chief Michael Roche said Rio Tinto may not be the only mining company to cut staff.

All companies were under pressure because of falling commodities prices and increasing costs, but those with debts had yet another factor to deal with, he said.

"There are other companies in that boat where debt reduction and debt management is their number one focus," Mr Roche said.

Queensland Treasurer Andrew Fraser said it was proof of an uncertain economic future.

"The announcement by Rio does paint a very rough picture of their view of the next couple of years," Mr Fraser told ABC Radio.

"It really confirms our view, as a government, that we need to batten down the hatches, that 2009 will be tough."

AAP gd/pjo/tnf/bwl