Jump to main content
IndustriALL logotype
Article placeholder image

Save our steel jobs so we can save our industry

19 October, 2011The International Metalworkers Federation is calling on Government and business leaders to back steel industry workers to ensure future success. The call comes amidst a number of high profile companies announcing closures or job losses that could undermine the future sustainability of the steel industry. Recent announcements have included 1,300 job losses at BlueScope Steel in Australia, the permanent closure at Liege (Belgium) and the idled blast furnaces in Florange (France) and Eisenhüttenstadt (Germany) by ArcelorMittal.

GLOBAL: Despite warnings from unions about the volatile conditions facing the steel industry many Governments have failed to act and introduce measures that improve sustainability. While steel demand is still waiting to fully recover in many developed countries unions are facing difficult decisions on how to address employer concerns on fixed costs. The main fixed costs are Raw Materials, Energy, Labour and Distribution. During the recent downturn the main focus of employers has been on labour but despite tough choices taken by workers it appears as if this is not enough.

Rob Johnston Executive Director stated "Unless Governments act by developing industrial policies which support the continuation of steel production more announcements of job losses are likely to follow". "A tripartite approach is critical workers alone cannot save this industry nor should they have to, measures have to be taken to address raw material prices, energy costs and fair trade".

Currently three big raw material companies BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Vale control seventy per cent of the iron ore market and use their dominant position to dictate prices for raw materials. Prices for raw materials have increased by over 100 per cent in the last year.
Also at the same time as record profits for mining companies many treat their workforce badly in attempts to maximize profits and oppress workers rights. The IMF wants Governments to take back some of the power from mining companies on pricing to ensure a more sustainable approach.

As part of this process Government intervention must also be matched by a greater long term commitment from employers. Social justice and long-term employment policies must be an integral part of business strategies. The steel industry must position itself for a brighter future through supporting programs that invest in education, training and vocational skills. Retaining a highly skilled and secure workforce is the foundation for a successful industry, short-termism is not the answer. Industrial change is happening in the industry already workers have to be prepared but also protected as worker participation is key.

Sadly until these measures are taken workers will continue to pay the price for the current crisis. Irresponsible decisions will continue to be made that undermine the future of manufacturing industries and see the closure of plants that have the potential to be profitable if given an equal opportunity by policy makers.