HAMILTON’S mineral sands plant will likely operate on a casual basis this year as operator Illuka battles fledgling demand and low prices.
But the resource company has indicated jobs at the site are safe, with hopes the market will pick up.
The plant, which employs about 66 people, operated only every second month for the first half of 2013 and was idled in November and December.
Illuka spokesman Robert Porter said “a combination of global economic settings” was causing a downturn in demand for mineral sands, used in pigments for plastics and paint.
“We expect to run the mineral separation plant over the course of the year, at lower utilisation rates, as was the case in 2013, as demand progressively recovers,” Mr Porter said. “The exact configuration, whether one month on, one month off is a matter for operational determination.
“The plant was idle over Christmas and new year and has recommenced operations.”
Illuka cut up to 200 jobs across the company last year but is optimistic the downturn in mineral sands is temporary.
“Because we think we’re in a cyclical low we’re expecting a recovery over time,” Mr Porter said.
Mineral sands mined in the Murray Basin areas of Woornack, Rownack and Pirro are freighted to the separation plant in Hamilton where they are processed and exported through the Port of Portland.