The last couple of years have been very rocky for Britain’s steel industry, as the UK’s major players – including Tata, SSI and Caparo – announced sell offs, shut downs and redundancies.
There have been some major injuries, most notably the closure of Redcar’s steelworks with loss of 2,200 jobs, but the vital sector has emerged bruised but more or less intact.
Unite was at the forefront of efforts to keep the industry alive; efforts that saw many steelworkers make painful choices over pay and pensions to ensure their sector’s survival.
But while export conditions have improved because of the pound’s falling value and EU tariffs have finally been imposed to prevent the dumping of cheap Chinese and Russian steel, the union is clear that the industry still needs major reform to secure its future.
Unite national officer for steel, Tony Brady, said the union will not rest until the backbone of British industry “is clear of the woods and once again providing that most vital of materials – steel – for a large proportion of the UK’s domestic manufacturing and infrastructure as well as being competitive on a global scale”.
Intervention still needed
He said, “The UK cannot afford to lose the world class expertise and skills of its steelworkers. Although the situation has calmed down somewhat during the last year, intervention is still needed to grow the industry and guarantee its health in the years to come.
“In the immediate term Unite is using its extensive political connections to increase pressure on MPs and lobby Parliament on a range of issues to secure certainty for the steel industry.”
To ensure the sector’s success, Unite is demanding the £50m per year energy price disparity with European steelmaking competitors is eliminated, that steel procurement guidelines and their reporting mechanisms are strengthened and that China faces tougher barriers to prevent steel dumping.
‘Future steel challenge fund’
The union is also calling for the establishment of a “future steel challenge fund” with match funding of £30m per year, the facilitation of new investment through access to capital, grants and innovative tax credits and the removal of plant and machinery from business rate valuations.
Maintaining a viable steel industry, Brady said, is crucial to the UK’s security. Without it the nation will not be able to manufacture its own iron and steel during times of crisis.
Brady added, “As well as renewing the union’s strategy for steel, we are planning to up public pressure by updating the Save Our Steel campaign to fight for an industrial strategy that ensures the future of all UK manufacturing sectors – with steelmaking at the heart of that.”