Unlikely alliance could save steel industry

In a rare moment of agreement, business, labour and government have agreed to protect the local steel industry, in a move aimed at avoiding what business has called the imminent collapse of the steel industry.

An emergency task team was established to avoid what some have said will cost 190 000 jobs and the closure of most steel producers in the country in six months, if drastic action is not taken.

“The meeting was significant in relation to the fact that we had approached government with one voice, irrespective of our differences,” the parties said in a joint statement, released on Monday.

Looming retrenchments at several steelmakers across the country prompted the formation of a task team. Numsa head of collective bargaining, Steve Nhlapo, previously told the Mail & Guardian that the union had approached other unions, UASA, Mewusa and Solidarity, as well as employers.

A potential collapse of the industry could see 190 000 workers lose their jobs.

At a media briefing on Monday, a task team representatives said there was no “quick fix” to the crisis and added that “impending company bloodbath” would affect large and small steel producers.

Present at the briefing were Numsa, Mewusa, Solidarity, Uasa, steelmakers Scaw Metals, Evras Highveld and ArcelorMittal, as well as the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of South Africa (Seifsa).

The task team met two weeks ago and a list of ten demands was sent to government. Chief among these was an urgent meeting with six government departments. On Friday, government agreed to meet.

At that meeting, Numsa secretary general Irvin Jim led the labour delegation. The business delegation was led by ArcelorMittal chief executive Paul O’Flaherty. The chief executives of Evraz, Scaw Metals, Cape Gate and Macsteel.

Government was represented by trade and industry minister Rob Davies, economic development minister Ebrahim Patel and various senior officials from the departments of transport, public enterprises, national treasury and Transnet.

The task team’s demands included the banning of steel scrap exports, monitoring of imports and the establishment of a steel crisis committee.

Government has committed to setting up a joint committee comprising of the departments of trade and industry and economic development.

O’Flaherty said on Monday that the agreements that had been reached at the meeting were not a “lifeline”, but that they could help to avert the crisis in the short-to-medium term.

Among the agreements reached were that the first application for tariffs at 10% would be signed off next week. ArcelorMittal agreed to join government in investigating anti-dumping measures.

The department of public enterprises agreed to look at ways to use local steelmakers. The task team had complained that state-owned enterprises imported steel, while the local industry was ignored.

A task team consisting of business, labour and government will investigate the possibility of a layoff training scheme, which could provide some protection to workers facing retrenchments.

The task team will meet again in three weeks’ time to assess progress made.

But the labour delegation warned that it would continue its focus on avoiding job losses, adding that “no worker deserves to be retrenched”.

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

These days, we are on the trail of the merry band of corporates and politicians robbing South Africa of its own potential.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Sarah Evans
Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans interned at the Diamond Fields Advertiser in Kimberley for three years before completing an internship at the Mail & Guardian Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane). She went on to work as a Mail & Guardian news reporter with areas of interest including crime, law, governance and the nexus between business and politics. 

Thebe Mabanga
Thebe Mabanga works from Gauteng, South Africa. Corporate Comms Officer. NEF. Thebe Mabanga has over 838 followers on Twitter.

Border walls don’t stop viruses, but a blanket amnesty might

Why South Africa should consider amnesty for undocumented migrants in the time of the coronavirus outbreak.

Mail & Guardian needs your help

Our job is to help give you the information we all need to participate in building this country, while holding those in power to account. But now the power to help us keep doing that is in your hands

Press Releases

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world

SAB Zenzele special AGM rescheduled to March 25 2020

New voting arrangements are being made to safeguard the health of shareholders

Dimension Data launches Saturday School in PE

The Gauteng Saturday School has produced a number of success stories