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Industry steels itself for a fight

THE figures tell the story. Claimed job losses of 3000 – from the same industry, most from the same region.

One company has downsized from a work force of 500 to about 30 in fewer than two years; down the road another firm employs 40 people compared to 150 18 months ago while a third’s number of employees has tumbled from 130 12 months ago to only 10.

Nationally, the figures are just as alarming. Seven large producers have cut their work force by 75 per cent during the past 12 months.

No wonder the steel fabrication industry has declared it is “on its knees”. The statistics prove the claim is not an attempt at cheap publicity; it is no exaggeration.

The industry has blamed the import of cheap fabricated steel as the main reason for the downturn.

It says it is unable to compete, is being denied opportunities to tender on a number of major projects and its quality and reliability is not being properly considered.

Part of the problem is the control multinational engineering companies have over heavy engineering projects and their supply arrangements with producers in countries such as India, Indonesia, Singapore and Korea.

Australian producers cannot compete with the cheaper manufacturing costs of these countries, but argue their quality is superior.

The Australian Institute of Steel Construction and the Steel Institute of Australia have a national campaign to highlight the issue and to lobby industry and government for policy change.

The problems – indeed, it may be a crisis – could lead to the extraordinary situation of a large component of WA’s manufacturing sector lacking the ability to facilitate proposed major infrastructure projects such as the $4 billion North West Shelf expansion.

It is critical the benefits of projects of such magnitude extend through WA.

WA cannot afford to let money – usually foreign – be invested in major infrastructure projects and most of the labour, technology, materials and services be sourced from overseas.

The benefits from investment of this scale have to be maximised. The steel fabrication industry says it has a number of examples of instances when this hasn’t been the case.

The State Government says it is liaising with the Commonwealth and doing what it can to preserve local content in major projects.

It points out Australia has obligations according to world free trade agreements.

The steel industry says it is aware of this. All it wants is a “fair go”; an opportunity to promote the benefits of Australian-produced fabricated steel and to be involved in tendering and procurement processes.

Surely that is not too much to ask.

Likewise that the Federal and State Governments do everything in their power to ensure regions, states and the country enjoy the flow-on benefits from major investment in infrastructure projects.

They have an obligation.

Woodside Energy has led the way by declaring it would attempt to source locally 70 per cent of requirements for its North West Shelf expansion.

While its commitment is to be applauded, the key is that this is translated into action.

For the sake of all.

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