Mittal 'knows nothing' of planned steel strike

Mittal Steel South Africa on Wednesday said it knows nothing of planned protests by its workers’ union over high steel prices.

“Mittal Steel South Africa has no knowledge of any industrial action planned by Numsa [the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa] ... This matter has certainly never been raised with us by the union at any of our meetings,” Mittal spokesperson Tami Didiza said in a statement.

Numsa on Tuesday said it will “mobilise a series of work stoppages, demonstrations, including general strikes in protest against steel-price increases”.

No definite date has been announced for the start of campaign, which is still being planned, said Numsa spokesperson Mziwakhe Hlangani on Wednesday. “It’s in the very early stages; we are now just beginning to mobilise.”

The campaign will start with lunch-hour demonstrations.
The union “might” apply for permission to stage a section 77 socio-economic strike, said Hlangani.

“It’s not [going to involve] a full-blown strike next week or tomorrow,” he said. “They [Mittal] know about our campaign.”

The union said it is being forced to take “harsh retaliatory action” against Mittal’s “arrogant and myopic approach” to a 5% cut on import parity pricing, Bafana Ndebele, Numsa’s chief national sector coordinator, wrote in Tuesday’s statement.

Didiza said Mittal does not use import parity pricing, but that the government has cut import duties on steel by 5%.

Hlangani said Mittal’s “excessive pricing” could lead to job cuts in the local small and medium steel industry downstream. “The prices are almost equal [to those] charged to international buyers,” he said.

Mittal responded that it had decreased its local prices by more than 6% in February last year and by almost 8% in August last year. Since January this year, international steel prices have increased by about 50%. Mittal has only increased the domestic steel prices by 18%. The rand has also depreciated against the dollar by 20% during this period, said Didiza.

In December last year, Mittal announced that its initiatives to help the downstream industry would benefit it to the amount of R1,6-billion in 2006.

These included provision of discounted steel for government housing projects and a new, R250-million investment fund for small and medium enterprises.

“These pricing and other benefits are aimed at assisting further growth and development of the downstream industry,” said Didiza.—Sapa

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