Steel stability essential for successful economy


2012 was a tough year for steel workers as weakening industrial production in most regions impacted on global steel demand. Many employers have been using the downturn to focus on wages and workers flexibility. Our unions have been arguing that competition is not purely based on wages, but a range of other factors including investment, infrastructure, new technology and skill development.

Steel employs more than 2 million workers directly worldwide and an additional 2 million contractors and is one of the most heavily unionized industries in the world. Nobody is more passionate about the future of the industry than our steel unions, time and time again in 2012 we saw how hard our unions were prepared to fight to save jobs, communities and advance workers’ rights. In France our unions did not sit idle for one day in the battle at ArcelorMittal Florange, triggering a national debate on the future of the industry.

Our belief is that the steel industry is the backbone to a successful economy and stability in the industry has a knock on effect throughout the whole economy.

Rob Johnston Executive Director IndustriALL believes, “The prediction for 2012 proved to be fairly accurate and this year we believe the industry will also continue in a transitional period. Global steel demand will continue to grow but at a slower pace than the previous decade. However the long- term prospects for the industry remain good and we expect improvements from last year.”

According to the latest Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Economic Outlook, the global economy is weakening again driven by a significant drop in confidence. High and, in some countries, rising unemployment is further reducing confidence and spending. While a recession is ongoing in the euro area, the US economy is growing but at a slow pace below what was expected in 2012. A slowdown is also taking place in many emerging market economies, partly reflecting the impact of the recession in Europe. After expanding by 3.7% in 2011, global GDP growth is forecast to decline to 2.9% in 2012, with a moderate gain in momentum to 3.4% in 2013.

A continued decline in the steel export market and excess capacity have once again seen the issue of steel trade policies come to the fore. A number of new antidumping and countervailing duty cases have brought the focus back onto trade remedy measures. Respect for workers’ rights is not only a social issue but an economic one as well that should be included as a measure of a level playing field. If workers do not enjoy the basic right to freedom of association, or to engage in collective bargaining, the “free” labour market will be severely distorted. This distortion results in unsafe work conditions and suppressed wages, among other things.

At a global steel meeting later this year IndustriALL will develop a common platform amongst unions to tackle these issues. The outcome of the meeting will be an action plan for steel unions until 2016.