BHP Billiton has cut jobs at a nickel project in Mati City, Davao Oriental, a move seen by local observers as a sign of the Australian miner’s supposed plan to get out of the controversial project.
Based on reports from Mati City, the world’s biggest mining company now operates with just seven employees from as high as 30 following a dispute with its local partner. Mati City Administrator Richard L. Villacorte said he had contacted company excecutives about the retrenchment but had yet to get a reply.
BHP Billiton representatives in the country have declined to speak with media about their dispute with estranged partner Asiaticus Management Corp concerning the Pujada nickel project.
Villacorte said Mati City Mayor Marie Michelle Denise N. Rabat had met with BHP Billiton Country manager Troy J. Charlton last month about their intention to lay off workers. But the BHP official had not offered an explanation.
But a government official familiar with the project said the move was a sign that the foreign miner was about to abandon the project after failing to patch things up with its partner.
“The way I understand it, BHP Billiton is starting to raise its hand in surrender,” said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity. He added that BHP Billiton might have thought of abandoning the site given the dip in global nickel prices.
Earlier, Asiaticus Management Corp said it would continue operating the project even with the plunge in nickel prices. Nickel prices have fallen to about US$4,500 per pound from as high as US$15,000 about three months ago.
Asiaticus said it would pursue the 11,799-hectare Pujada nickel project because of its commitment to the indigenous communities and city government in the area.
Last year, Asiaticus unilaterally rescinded its joint venture deal with BHP Billiton’s local subsidiary, QNI Philippines, accusing its partner of delaying the development of the project to 2019 from the original date of 2009.