A rally tonight in Redcar will highlight the crisis in the UK steel industry which is threatening 3,200 jobs at the SSI plant in the north east town which has made iron and steel for nearly one hundred years. The knock on effect in the steeltown on the south bank of the River Tees could cost another 6,000 local jobs if the plant closes – production is currently ‘paused’.
Steel from the plant has been used to build the Tyne Bridge, Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Angel of the North sculpture. Closure would have a devastating impact on the whole region and have an impact across iron and steelmaking across the UK, Unite SSI convenor Kevin Cook told UniteLive.
“Steelmaking is critical to Redcar and the north east. There is also a danger of closure having a domino effect across the UK steel industry because we are facing the same problems.
“Closure would rip the heart out of manufacturing in a region and industry which has been hit very hard. But it will have a knock effect if you close the plant and remove a lot of money from people’s pockets.
“That will hit taxi drivers, newsagents, local shops and pubs and clubs. The workforce is very worried, some people are devastated by the threat they face.
“We have younger people early in their working lives having their hopes dented. Some skills are transferable but others are very highly specialised.
“Even those with transferable skills are worried. There are not a lot of places in the region where we can take the skills.”
He has a simple message for Chancellor George Osborne: “Keep the fires burning in Redcar. Protect UK manufacturers the way they protect them in Germany and keep a manufacturing base which we can build on.”
The current crisis appears short-term but has hit Thai-based SSI company which owns the Redcar plant very hard. Global construction and Chinese construction has slowed resulting in a glut of cheap Chinese steel on the world market.
The Chinese Government is making this cheaper still by actively devaluing their currency leaving their steel prices cheaper still. It leaves other country’s steel makers struggling to compete, at least in the short-term.
SSI, is trying to re-structure company debt. It, like others, has been hit by a sudden and profound drop in global steel prices.
Tony Burke, Unite assistant general secretary said: “Our message to Government is simple – for God’s sake save us. These are short-term but severe issues facing UK steelmaking and we need the Government to step in.
“Steel making is a foundation industry, it is not a sunset industry. It would form one of the bedrocks of an industrial strategy and without it such a strategy would be diminished.
“We are working very hard with Community and the GMB to save this plant.
There has been work behind the scenes at a political level to try and persuade Government that it must step in and assist.
“Osborne is in China begging them to bid for the construction contract for the HS2 railway line. We’d like to see the huge quantities of steel need for the rails, the bridges, tunnels and other infrastructure made in the UK.”
Commenting Unite national officer for steel Harish Patel said: “We will be meeting urgently with the company and assisting our members and their families through this difficult and worrying time.
“The news is yet another blow to steelmaking in the UK and devastating news for the local economy and the people whose livelihoods depend on steel making at Redcar.
“Britain’s steel industry is at crisis point due to high energy costs and difficult market conditions. The UK government needs to follow the lead of its French, Italian and German counterparts and step up support for steelmaking here in the UK as part of a wider industrial strategy to rebalance the economy.”