Steel industry ‘on its knees’

WA’S steel fabrication industry – one of the State’s major sources of manufacturing jobs – is being “forced to its knees” as construction project managers favour cheap imports of fabricated steel over local produce.

This gloomy prediction comes from WA manager of the Australian Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) Rupert Grayston.

AISC, in conjunction with the Steel Institute of Australia (SIA), is campaigning to preserve local content in big construction projects.

Mr Grayston said he hoped to reverse a trend that had seen thousands of WA jobs lost as many metropolitan workshops closed or downsized to a skeleton work force.

The campaign focused on urging Federal and State governments to ensure private developers gave local industry a fair opportunity to tender and subsidies for projects resulted in local employment.

Australian industry participation plans requiring project developers to inform the government about how they would procure work were also being called for.

“We do not expect anyone to pay a premium for a local product,” Mr Grayston said.

“We just want the local industry to be given a chance to compete. In many cases, local industry doesn’t even have the opportunity to tender.

“If this keeps up our resource industry will lose what is a vital source of manufacturing support.”

Ironically, AISC has been forced to take this action at a time when the industry should be espousing a sunny outlook.

Australia’s highly efficient work practices, reputation for a quality product and extremely favourable

exchange rate makes our product ripe for export.

But as Naval Base’s Pacific Industrial Company’s director of special projects George Petley points out “we are too busy trying to stay alive at home to focus on exporting”.

Mr Petley said cost comparisons showed it was cheaper to use locally produced goods.

“It’s ridiculous. We should have our home markets sown up with government support and we sh

WA Government sources speak of a desire to address the crisis through a number of cooperative means, but stop short of supporting appeals for firm regulations on local content.

A spokesman for Deputy Premier and Trade Minister Hendy Cowan said the Department of Commerce and Trade, the Department of Resources Development and the Industrial Supplies Office were collectively looking at ways to enhance local content.

The State was working with the Commonwealth but the industry had to appreciate Australia’s obligations under world free trade agreements.

Mr Grayston said an upsurge in major infrastructure projects would not reverse a growing trend during the past two years towards global sourcing for components.

Most major heavy engineering construction projects were now controlled by multinational engineering companies who had supply relationships with firms in Korea, India, Indonesia and Singapore.

Throughout the nation, seven large steel producers had cut their work force by 75 per cent during the past 12 months.

“Steel fabrication is a large, competitive industry that accounts for almost 23 per cent of total manufacturing jobs in this State and is essential to the mining, oil and gas and minerals processing and heavy industrial developments on which this State depends,” Mr Grayston said.

“The industry is facing a permanent loss of capacity and skills base.”

Kwinana construction giant United Construction, which 20 months ago employed up to 500 people, now operates with a fabrication work force of about 30.

Pacific Industrial Company employs 40 people compared to 150 people 18 months ago.

Primax has drastically downsized its fabrication shop from 130 workers 12 months ago to 10 people.

Amalgamated Metal Workers Union State president Keith Peckham referred to another four companies on the Kwinana industrial strip that had closed.

“Some 3,000 jobs have been lost in the Kwinana area alone,” Mr Peckham said.

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