Government to meet steel industry players

ArcelorMittal's Boipatong steel mill. (Madelene Cronje, MG)

ArcelorMittal's Boipatong steel mill. (Madelene Cronje, MG)

As industry players scramble to prevent a total shutdown of the industry within the next six months, a task team formed to curb job losses in the steel industry is expected to meet with government in the next two weeks.

The task team consisting of unions and steelmakers was formed in August and urgently sought to meet with government. It is estimated that 190 000 jobs are on the line across the sector, with the imminent closure of all major steel producers.

That meeting took place on August 18, where government committed to ensuring that applications for tariffs on steel imports would be considered. Business and labour had demanded anti-dumping measures, among a host of other interventions to stem what industry leaders called “blood on the floor” in terms of job losses.

On Tuesday, President Jacob Zuma met with mining industry role players in an attempt to curb an expected 12 000 job losses in that industry.
The mining industry is expected to be hard hit by the closure of steel mills, too.

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa)’s head of collective bargaining, Steve Nhlapo, told the Mail & Guardian at the time that the steel task team had been initiated when the union became inundated with notices of intention to retrench workers.

He said it was impossible to deal with all of the notices in a piecemeal manner. Nhlapo could not be immediately reached for comment on Tuesday.

Solidarity’s head of metals and engineering, Marius Croucamp, said the task team was due to meet without government on September 16, with a view to meeting government the next week.

On the agenda are more tariff applications and a discussion on government’s progress in implementing anti-dumping measures.

He said a smaller team had been formed which would investigate the posited training layoff scheme, a “stop-gap” measure to try to minimise some of the damage expected to flow from the job losses. This team met last Friday.

Croucamp said this team would meet again this Friday.

“We have to push,” Croucamp said. “We had to go to government with a plan and we have to formulate those proposals. The tariffs that did come through were in the pipeline anyway. The proof is in the pudding from government. In the meantime we are doing our work.

“What is clear to us is that we need this alliance to formulate solutions. None of the parties can do it alone. How much government’s policy will restrain us, we will wait and see,” he said.

But industry players have previously said the measures that the task team wants introduced will only assist the industry in the long term. For many steel plants, it is too late, in the short term.

ArcelorMittal is reviewing its Vanderbijlpark works. The review should be completed by the end of October. Notices of intention to retrench were issued to workers at its Vereeniging plants, although Solidarity said only some sections of the plant are expected to be closed.

Croucamp said that a few hundred jobs were saved at ArcelorMittal thanks to tariff applications that were processed in the wake of the task team’s meeting with government.

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.  Read more from Sarah Evans

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