23 March, 2021At the OECD steel committee on 19, 22-23 March, TUAC, in partnership with IndustriALL Global Union and industriAll Europe, raised workers’ concerns over the issue of overcapacity, as well as the health and safety situation and its effects on workers.
The over 120 governmental and employers’ delegates discussed recent developments in the steel sector during the Covid-19 pandemic. Global steelmaking capacity again increased in 2020 by over 1.5 per cent, reaching 2.45 billion tons at the end of 2020, despite a weak market and despite the pandemic. At the same time, actual steel production dropped sharply in many regions of the world, namely in North America and Europe.
Increasing overcapacity is a concern and urgent action is needed as global overcapacity can flood the international market and artificially drive down steel prices. Now more than ever workers call for international action to ensure a fair global level playing field which allows for fair international trade. TUAC, the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD, is entitled to give workers a voice in the OECD Steel Committee.
On behalf of TUAC, Matthias Hartwich, IndustriALL steel director, addressed the delegations and submitted a statement:
“For us, it is essential to make sure that the employees who toil in the steel industry every day do not pay with their jobs and with their lives for the prosperity and the future of the steelmaking, regardless of whether it is in India, Europe, North America, Latin America, Australia or Asia. The health and safety of the employees in the steel industry have to be respected, and to this end we need real dialogue with the workers and their unions. This is crucial not only to tackle the consequences of the pandemic, but health and safety in general.“
The steel industry plays an important role in achieving the goals of the Paris Climate Deal. Investments in clean technology must come alongside concerted Just Transition plans for steelworkers, negotiated with the workforce and its unions.
Filip Stefanovic, economic policy advisor at TUAC, said:
“The Covid-19 crisis has negatively impacted the steel sector, with global output falling by approximately 1 per cent in 2020, mitigated by China, whose production grew by an impressive 9.5 per cent compared to a year before. Despite the fall in aggregate output in 2020, global capacity has increased by 1.6 per cent. The decline in steel trade and increasing global production overcapacity are not a consequence of Covid-19, but rather a long-term issue that accelerated in the context of the current economic downturn.
“International cooperation and an agreement to reduce illegal capacity are crucial in order to consolidate and improve sectoral resilience, which is key to defending existing jobs and paving the way towards a Just Transition in the steel industry.”
The growing overcapacity adds pressure on workers. Job losses must be limited, but the steady incline of fatal accidents among steelworkers, like lately in India, Spain, South Korea and South Africa, must be brought to a halt.
Unions argue that health and safety measures combined with real participation of workers and their representatives are the best way to keep Covid-19 infection rates low and also protect workers’ lives.
Judith Kirton-Darling, deputy general secretary, industriAll Europe, said:
‘’We need a global level playing field which ensures high levels of employment and environmental standards worldwide. Trade unions continue to call on the OECD steel committee to tackle global overcapacity and the dumping of cheap steel. This would allow for truly joint international efforts towards the production of high-quality green steel with all steelworkers’ employment rights being respected. The steel industry, and its workers, will play a vital role in achieving the goals of the Paris Climate Deal and companies need to invest both in clean technologies and their workforces.’’