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Steelworks are Fundamental Australian Infrastructure

OPINION

BlueScope Steel’s Port Kembla Steelworks is critical to the economic future of the Illawarra, and a fundamental part of Australia’s industrial infrastructure. 

So much Australian industry has been sent off-shore by hostile governments, technological change, short-sighted management and economic disruption – we can’t afford to lose our steel industry.

We should have no illusions about the devastation that would result from the closure of this vital industrial facility. 

Ten thousand jobs would go and never be recovered. 

Apprenticeships, engineering cadetships and management opportunities would be lost forever. 

Hundreds of small businesses would close. House prices in the Illawarra would collapse, ruining the retirement and financial plans of countless local families.

These are not simply numbers on a page. 

From Detroit, Michigan to Doveton, Victoria we have seen the profound social cost of industrial decline: poverty, crime, substance abuse. 

If we lose the jobs and investment that heavy manufacturing provides we risk the living standards of both current and future generations.

We can’t allow this to be the future for Wollongong. 

That is why the steel industry unions and Bluescope management, along with workers and supply chain companies, worked together to build a $200 million rescue package that delivers a long term future for Bluescope Steel. 

That required vision, commitment and courage from all of the participants.  

I am proud of our union leaders and workplace delegates who negotiated their way through very difficult issues, including hundreds of job losses, a wage and bonus freeze and the elimination of uncompetitive work practices. 

This has been hard and has required putting aside the short-term industrial conflicts to focus on the long-term jobs and economic security for the region.

I have been dismayed by some of the irresponsible coverage and ‘anonymous reports’ that have characterized the public debate this week. 

The truth is that the agreement being voted on is precisely the same as the package that was overwhelmingly endorsed two weeks ago. 

There is no alternative to the package that will be voted on next week – if it fails then Bluescope will close the Steelworks causing untold suffering and hardship for many thousands of people. 

That is an outcome that nobody can countenance.

I am certain that union members at BlueScope will support the rescue package next week. 

The next task for unions and the community will be fighting for Australian steel and manufacturing, building good jobs and supporting the steel workers who contribute so much to our economy and our community. 

The real work starts on Wednesday.

- Tim Ayres is the secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union NSW Branch.

Originally published 13/11/2015 in the Illawarra Mercury, available here

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