According to reports from Ireland, the country's largest mine of any kind, and Europe's largest zinc mining operation (the fifth largest in the world), Tara, may be put on care and maintenance by owner Boliden if the workforce won't agree to new work proposals.

Reuters quotes Ireland's Services, Industrial, Professional & Technical Union (SIPTU) as saying that The company is proposing to substantially reduce productivity related earnings and revise shift patterns ... If the company goes ahead with its proposal to put the mine on a care and maintenance basis from January 19 this will have a terrible impact on the economy of County Meath

Tara has been the big success story for the revival of a mining industry in Ireland.  It commenced production back in 1977 and has been Europe's largest zinc and lead miner for some years.  The operation mines some 2.7 million tonnes of ore annually, which yields zinc and lead concentrates containing up to 200,000 tonnes of zinc and 40,000 tonnes of lead metal.  The concentrates are shipped to Boliden's metallurgical plants at Odda in Norway and Kokkola in Finland - but these are both reducing output because of the decline in zinc and lead demand and prices.

This is not the first time Tara has faced a shutdown for economic reasons.  Previous owner Outokumpu shut the mine down back in 2001 for two years because of high mining costs.  Ownership was subsequently transferred to Boliden in 2004 as part of an asset swap and restructuring of the two Nordic companies.

Boliden and the SIPTU union have been in talks on the implementation of new working conditions since the middle of last month.  Boliden said before Christmas that it hadn't made a decision on mine closure, but it was under consideration and with the January 19th deadline looming an announcement is expected soon.