Unions call on government to use local steel to secure jobs

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The Age: Unions call on government to use local steel to secure jobs. August 5, 2014, Nick Toscano. Workplace Reporter for The Age

Workers rally at Webb Dock on Tuesday. Photo: Joe Armao

Steelworkers are calling on the Victorian government to ensure that local steel is used to build its signature road project, the East West Link, amid rising fears of further job cuts from the struggling manufacturing sector.

Unions say up to 800 jobs would be secured if the builders of the $8 billion first stage of the East West Link used locally produced steel, instead of importing cheaper steel from overseas.

More than 150 workers staged a protest on Tuesday at the Port of Melbourne, where local steel fabricators missed out on 25,000 tonnes of work earlier this year for the $1.6 billion expansion of Webb Dock.

Roads Minister Terry Mulder has moved to reassure workers that short-listed bidders for the East West Link have been advised they must spend at least 80 per cent of costs locally.

”The majority of the steel will be sourced from Australia. The guidelines clearly encourage content to be sourced from Australia,” a spokeswoman for Mr Mulder said.

But the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union said the Napthine government’s minimum local content requirements did not prevent contractors from using imported steel and called for a stronger commitment surrounding the East West Link.

State secretary Steve Dargavel said the criteria used to determine the 80 per cent local content spend was questionable and factored in post-construction costs, such as maintenance for the life of the project.

”Locking out local steel fabricators from major government projects results in Victorians being sacked,” he said. ”We need real commitments and that comes down to political will.”

Ben Davis, state secretary of the Australian Workers Union, said a ”shudder” went through the Victorian steel industry when the government announced that Webb Dock would be redeveloped with imported steel. ”The majority of first-world countries do not import steel, full stop … so why are we any different in Victoria?”

A statement from workers at Portland-based steel firm Keppel Prince, which lost its bid for the Webb Dock contract, was read out to the crowd, condemning the lack of commitment to Australian jobs.

”The imported steel coming through our docks at present has a direct impact on local jobs such as ours,” they said.

The AWU released a report at OneSteel, in Melbourne’s west in May, pointing to the economic benefits that would flow through as a result of mandating local steel be used to build the East West Link.

”When manufacturing is in real diabolical strife, for every $1 million spent on local steel it creates eight jobs and generates a further $1 million of economic activity above and beyond the cost of the steel.”

Massive job losses have been announced in manufacturing in recent months, including closures in the car-making industry and Alcoa’s Point Henry smelter.

A spokeswoman for Mr Mulder said the government’s procurement guidelines showed it was investing in jobs and helping drive local industry development, while the state opposition was ”saying no” to a $24 billion investment in Victorian infrastructure, including the East West Link.

”By doing so, Labor is saying no to a $24 billion investment in infrastructure, no to thousands of Victorian jobs and no to the huge flow-on effects for local suppliers and businesses,” the spokeswoman said.

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