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Reviewing the Steel Industry in 2019

December 15, 2019

Steel dumping in Australia

We’ve known for years that our industry is being harmed by cheap, low-quality overseas steel.
It’s putting thousands of jobs at risk, and it’s why we launched our Don’t Dump on Australia campaign this year.

We need world class, robust and timely anti-dumping provisions that can provide effective defence against unfair trade to Australian steel producers.

The ongoing tariff war between the US and other markets continues to put pressure on the steel industry. While Australia enjoys free trade on steel with the US, countries such as China and South Korea have diverted their exports elsewhere, resulting in an oversupply of steel being dumped below cost on Australian shores.

The AWU stands by its steel makers, and has been calling for increased funding to the Anti-Dumping Commission to investigate this issue and penalise steelmakers. The length of time to fully investigate an anti-dumping case has increased to 270 days, which is just not good enough in the current market.

We have met with regulators, politicians and industry leaders throughout the year to raise our concerns, and in 2020 we will continue our efforts to stop the flow of cheap steel onto our shores. The AWU attended the most recent meeting of the International Trade Remedies Forum on the Gold Coast in December and we will continue to make the case for fairness.

Buying local

As it stands, there is a lack of fair market access to both public and private major projects across Australia. The Victorian Government introduced legislation in 2018 which was supposed to guarantee minimum local content on major projects – including 90% on construction projects – but just a year on and we’re already hearing excuses.

The Premier Daniel Andrews says he cannot deliver his $100 billion agenda without using global construction firms and materials. This is being played out in the West Gate Tunnel development, where builders CPB and John Holland are facing punishment over their plans to import 33,000 tonnes of Chinese steel.

We have the steel, and the government should be using it. We have to make sure that governments and the major project operators stop using cheap, low-quality imported steel.

We’ll be ramping up the pressure next year and are calling for the anti-dumping commission to be properly resourced.

More buyouts for the GFG Alliance

The GFG Alliance, which owns Liberty OneSteel, has added another purchase to their steel portfolio – Matthews Metal Management, which has five sites across NSW. This is the latest in a string of buyouts across the country, and GFG’s various steelworks and businesses now employ 7000 workers In Australia.

GFG have also bought two smaller steel mills in Ingleburn and Smeaton Grange this year. This continuing investment shows promise for the future of Aussie-made steel. GFG and its founder, Sanjeev Gupta, have maintained that workers and communities are at the heart of their business values. The AWU hopes to continue a positive working relationship with GFG to ensure the best conditions for steelworkers well into the future.

New EBA at Port Kembla Steelworks

Our standout news for the year was delivering a new EBA for members at the Port Kembla Steelworks.

This was the result of a drawn-out campaign, which included a long and well-planned campaign of industrial action. The end result was a three-year agreement, 4%, 4%, and 3% pay rises and the return of some critical conditions, including our penalties for sick leave on weekends and public holidays.

We secured a great result by sticking together, and in an era where the average pay rise is just 2.3% this is an even greater win!

Workers in Wollongong vote on the new EBA

Eagle Farm ARC – A new EBA and performance awards

The year started off quietly, but soon ramped up by delivering some significant site improvements including concreting work that improved safety for truck loaders and drivers. A new prefabrication section on site now allows workers to make products the company was previously outsourcing, which has created one new permanent role and several casual roles.

The team have also won a highest performing operational team and several safety recognition awards. Earlier this month workers also voted in a new EBA which will cover the site for the next three years.

Whyalla Steelworks

GFG, the new owners of Whyalla Steelworks, hinted at big plans earlier this year to transform one of its biggest sites. Owner Sanjeev Gupta said their improved steel-making capacity would create 1500 jobs in the region, but it comes with a hefty $1.3 billion price-tag and would require support from the taxpayer. No plans have been released publicly thus far.

In October, Gupta revealed he is seeking $120 million in government investment into the state’s electricity grid, to shore up energy supply for the Whyalla mill. We’ll keep members up to speed with any developments in 2020 and beyond.

DSI Newcastle – Open for business

There were several redundancies at DSI Underground in Newcastle this year. DSI, which is Australia’s largest manufacturer & supplier of specialist strata reinforcement & support products to the underground coal & metalliferous mining sectors, has been going through some significant changes.

In October 2018 it bought Fero Group, a privately-owned company who operates primarily in the ‘hard rock’ mining space, and then set about relocating its manufacturing and several other hard rock mining related products from Newcastle to one of its other bases in Brisbane.

This resulted in a significant reduction in workload through the Newcastle plant and led to 14 voluntary redundancies over a four-month period. DSI in Newcastle also dropped back from around 30 labour hire employees to only 2.

The good news is that the plant is set to remain open and the company seems committed to a Newcastle base for the foreseeable future.

BHP Newcastle – 20 years on

This year at the annual AWU Retired Members Luncheon in Newcastle, the retired members commemorated the 20th anniversary of the closure of the BHP Newcastle steelworks.

A number of members of the BHP closure steering committee spoke about the role that the AWU played in ensuring that AWU members were paid fair severance payments and were retrained to assist with securing future employment.

AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton summed up the mood of the day when he talked about the importance of unity during tough times.

“The reason I think it’s important is that after all that you went through, 20 years on you are all here as mates, sitting side by side,” he said.

“For me that’s the message of what being a union member is. Standing with your mate and supporting each other through thick and thin.”

You can find footage of the day here.

Former BHP Newcastle members catching up on times past


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