Union accepts job cuts to avert closure of BlueScope’s Port Kembla plant

The Australian Workers' Union (AWU) has pledged its willingness to work with BlueScope Steel to avert the closure of the latter’s Port Kembla steelworks.

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BlueScope steel workers and union officials held a meeting on Wednesday September 2 to discuss the issues at hand.

“We will do whatever is reasonable to keep the Port Kembla steelworks open and viable,” the AWU said in a statement on Wednesday following the meeting.

“It is acknowledged that a number of job losses may occur during this process, but these losses should not just be targeted at shop floor members. Any restructure should include management roles as well,” it said.

BlueScope, Australia’s biggest steelmaker, is undertaking a review to assess the ongoing viability of its steel operations in Australia and New Zealand.

The company is aiming to achieve an annual permanent cost reduction of A$200 million ($142 million) at Port Kembla and over NZ$50 million ($32 million) at its Waikato plant in New Zealand by its 2017 financial year.

On Tuesday, AWU national secretary Scott McDine said the common core priority was to continue to see quality steel produced by Australian workers at Port Kembla.

“Given the global environment we acknowledge that a level of cost cutting is necessary and we are completely open to engaging openly and constructively about how best we can achieve this together,” he said.

“We do believe that there are other measures that can greatly assist in ensuring the future viability of BlueScope’s Port Kembla operations and this includes a shift in government steel procurement policy,” he said.

McDine said the union’s push for procurement was not an “Option C” alternative to restructuring, but rather a “distinct goal that would be useful in conjunction with other measures”.

“Our governments should mandate the use of quality local steel in local infrastructure projects,” he said.

BlueScope is operating its last remaining blast furnace at Port Kembla, after closing one other in 2011 following the company’s decision to exit from the export market.