Government and unions seek remedies for steel industry

Pretoria - While the public authorities would implement steps to save jobs in the industry, more needs to be done by business and organized labour to create a conducive environment and avoid job losses in the steel industry.

In particular, government has called on business to reduce job losses and on both parties to build strong workplace partnerships.

This emerged after Friday’s meeting which saw a government delegation led by Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies and Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel who met with representatives from business and labour on challenges faced in the iron and domestic steel industry.

This, arising principally from global factors including the current glut of steel resulting in increasing imports of steel products into South Africa and cost-pressures on the industry.

The meeting was attended by Seifsa, Cosatu, Numsa, the NUM, Solidarity, UASA, Transnet and various government departments after the requests from unions COSATU and its affiliates.

Government used the meeting to advise the parties that there were processes underway in International Trade Administration Commission of South Africa (ITAC) to consider various tariff applications.

“The ITAC has finalised consideration on a tariff adjustment application on three products, which will shortly be processed via government for final decision,” a joint statement from the dti and Economic Development said on Monday.

The new applications, according to government have recently been received and are being considered.

However, no anti-dumping applications have as yet been received from industry.

Government also advised that there are steps taken to address the challenges faced by Highveld Steel.

These include a R150 million funding facility made available by the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and processes through business rescue to identify viable new technology and equity partners for the company.

Other steps taken, including a competition probe on pricing in the industry, advice solicited from a panel of experts in the steel industry, beneficiation pilot projects (such as on fuel-cell technologies), designation of domestically-manufactured steel products for public procurement.

Business and labour on their side shared their concerns, including the impact of carbon-tax and the multiplier effects that job losses in the steel and iron-ore sector could have on the wider economy.

Government identified contact persons to liaise with parties on trade investigations, tightening of scrap-metal regulations and better use of the training layoff scheme introduced during the economic downturn of 2009.

“Government noted that it had demonstrated an appetite to support local industry, including through defending public interest measures when these were taken on review to the courts. The example of scrap metal regulations was cited.”

Government provided information to show a substantial spending on public infrastructure and provided the stakeholders with examples of industrial successes through the public localisation programme.