Nationalise BlueScope Steel to save jobs, environment

August 23, 2011
Port Kembla steelworks.

The Socialist Alliance released the statement below on August 23.

* * *

BlueScope Steel Ltd. announced on August 22 that it would shut two production facilities and shed 1000 jobs as part of a restructure aimed at turning around a $1.05 billion annual loss.

This will mean the shutdown of a blast furnace at Port Kembla in the Illawarra region of New South Wales and closure of its Western Port hot strip mill in Victoria.

The Port Kembla closure will result in 800 job losses, while at least 200 jobs will be cut at Western Port.

According to the Green Jobs Illawarra Action Plan, one third of the Illawarra region’s manufacturing workforce of 18,000 are direct or contract employees of BlueScope Steel.

These cuts will be devastating to communities already suffering from high unemployment and underemployment. The $3 million worth of bonuses BlueScope executives are paying themselves is a further slap in the face for retrenched workers.

Jobs have continually been lost in the steel industry over the past three decades, in spite of government bailouts.

In the 1980s there were 11,400 steelworkers in Newcastle — now there are just a handful. On the NSW south coast, the industry employed about 23,000 workers at beginning of the 1980s. Before these latest cuts, employment in the steel industry was down to 3000 jobs.

To have any hope of achieving 100% renewable, stationery energy production in a decade, Australia’s domestic electricity grid must be restructured and rebuilt.

Australia, like the rest of the world, faces the urgent need to transition jobs in the construction and manufacturing sectors to support the large-scale roll out of renewable energy production facilities such as wind farms and solar thermal plants, as well as low emissions manufacturing and processing industries.

Yet it is not the national interest or the objective need to prevent climate warming of more than two degrees that is determining Australia’s industry direction, but the vagaries of the market — specifically the currency and export markets, including raw materials and manufactured goods.

Paul Howes, leader of the Australian Workers’ Union, is echoing the call from the federal ALP government for the Chinese government to float its currency, thus increasing the value of the yuan against the Australian dollar to make Australian steel exports more competitive. But this is a losing game.

AIG Head, Heather Ridout has called on the government to reduce the tax burden on manufacturers, who are bearing the brunt of the mineral boom and the strong Australian currency. But Australian corporations pay only 30% tax now, and enjoy regular handouts from government.

The federal government has responded with a $100 million bailout of BlueScope in the form of a funding advance for the Steel Transformation Plan (part of its $300 million carbon tax compensation package over five years), and a $30 million innovation fund to support new businesses and high-skilled jobs in the areas.

The prime minister announced $10 million worth of services and support to workers — in reality a $10 million handout to Jobs Services Australia to train sacked workers and find them other jobs.

The federal government has ruled out making money available to fund the Green Jobs Illawarra Action Plan. First launched in 2009, the document sets out a comprehensive action plan for green job generation and industry development in the Illawarra.

The Hawke Labour government’s 1983-1988 “Steel Industry Plan” subsidised steel companies (many of which amalgamated and later became BlueScope) by $500 million over five years and yet more than 30,000 jobs have been lost in the industry in the IIlawarra and Newcastle since late 1970s.

There are predictions this week that another 100,000 Australian jobs could be lost from the economy by March next year.

Rather than knee-jerk reactions to market failures, in the form of handouts to big business that don’t save jobs, we need industry planning to create green jobs and to protect workers and communities from restructuring by multinational corporations like BlueScope, intent on protecting their profitability at any cost.

BlueScope Steel should immediately restart plans to build the co-generation plant that could save one million tonnes of greenhouse gases each year. If BlueScope says they require government assistance to get this done, then they must prove it by opening their books to public inspection.

If they refuse to do this, BlueScope should be placed under public ownership.

The only way to ensure a just transition for steel workers and communities to a sustainable manufacturing industry is to free our national manufacturing industries from the impact of global market fluctuations by nationalising these key sectors in the interests of workers and the environment.


Can you please expand on how nationalising the key sectors would prevent exposure to global market fluctuations? Would it not be the case that the same burden is moved from the private sector onto the government necessitating an increase in taxation on the very workers so described?
Where are these green jobs?
Currently being destroyed wholesale by state Coalition governments ...not that Federal Labor is doing much either:
Placed under public ownership how exactly? Theft? Bought out? We are not some third world tin pot dictatorship you know!

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