The push from Australian manufacturing unions for a broad-based agenda to support domestic manufacturing has been reinforced by 1,400 job losses at BlueScope’s Port Kembla and WesternPort operations.
AWU National Secretary Paul Howes said today’s announcement from BlueScope was a devastating blow for the manufacturing industry and further strengthened the union’s call for action on the Chinese Yuan, a robust anti-dumping system and strong local procurement policies for the resources sector.
“The AWU has been fighting to support the steel industry in this country for generations – it’s the backbone of Australian manufacturing,” Mr Howes said.
“Today’s announcement is devastating for the families of more than 1,400 workers who will be feeling the trauma and distress that comes with the loss of a secure income.
“At the same time, today’s tragic job losses send the clear signal that Australian manufacturing is facing the worst crisis it has seen since the Great Depression.
“We’ve got to face the reality of the manufacturing crisis that’s before us. We can’t accept job losses as the norm and we can’t rely on imported goods in our strategic sectors.”
AMWU National Secretary Dave Oliver said Australian manufacturing was under extraordinary pressure from the booming dollar, record high terms of trade and unfair competition from illegal foreign dumping.
“Local industry is not being given a fair go to work on the mining and resource projects which are driving the dollar sky-high,” Mr Oliver said.
“Manufacturing still employs close to 1 million Australians. Mining employs around 200 000.
“The most important lesson today for Australia is this: our economy cannot just rely on mining. We can only dig up our mining resources once.
“With clever policies, we can take advantage of the opportunity to build our manufacturing sector up on the back of the boom.
“Today is a massive wake-up call to state and federal governments to take more action on this issue.
“The benefits of the mining boom come with very big downsides – and 1,400 families today have learnt the hard way about the downsides.”
Mr Howes renewed calls for the Australian Government to join international efforts pressuring the Chinese Government to float their currency.
“As I said on Friday, cracking down on China’s currency manipulation should be right at the top of our foreign policy agenda,” Mr Howes said.
“Estimates suggest China is undervaluing the Yuan by up to 40% – which just drives export industries and jobs to China at the expense of Australian industry.
“Australia should be developing a diplomatic effort to make sure China does the right thing and floats its currency to alleviate the pressure on local manufacturers.
“If we’re going to give Australian manufacturers the chance to compete on a level playing field, we need to get serious about a sectoral support plan – one that includes tough local content policy, currency changes and a stronger anti-dumping regime.”
Mr Howes and Mr Oliver are in Port Kembla today and are currently meeting with affected workers.
The unions and BlueScope Steel have been in discussions over the process under which the workforce reduction will take place and are continuing to negotiate over details of the packages.
Both unions have scheduled ongoing delegates meetings and discussions with the workforce over the coming days.
AWU National Secretary Paul Howes and AMWU National Secretary Dave Oliver will address media today:
Location: Port Kembla Steelworks
Address: Five Islands Road
North Gate (Springhill Road)