Steel strikes expected after stand-off

BlueScope Steel has been notified of collective strike action by three steelworkers’ unions just days after it posted a $1 billion annual loss.

The unions and the company have each taken a hard line in slow enterprise agreement negotiations that have been dragging on since February and union officials have long been warning of strikes.

The stand-off means steelmaking at Port Kembla could grind to a halt for four hours on Tuesday if workers walk off the job, Australian Workers Union Port Kembla branch secretary Wayne Phillips said.

Between 600 and 900 steelworkers were expected to block the road outside the steelworks’ northern entrance between 10am and 2pm, while afternoon and night-shift workers would go home four hours early.

Mr Phillips said talks would continue today and he hoped a deal could be reached.

He also defended using strike action in the negotiations and said workers had “sacrificed a hell of a lot”.

“Our goal is to get our people a fair deal without doing any major damage to the company,” he said.

“We are not pursuing our [original] wage claims but we are working our backsides off to make sure that what we’ve got we maintain, and what we’ve got is not driving the company out of business.

“Our conditions are not creating problems for the company.

“The thing that’s creating problems for the company, apart from the high dollar, is that Australians don’t demand Australian steel.”

The unions would settle for the company’s pay offer of a 3 per cent increase in the first year and 2.5 per cent for the next two years, a far cry from their original claim for 6 per cent a year.

Mr Phillips said the company also wanted to change shift structures at the No 5 blast furnace, reducing the number of crews from five to four, and unions were strongly opposed to the move.

Australian Manufacturing Workers Union organiser Brad Hattenfels said workers were not prepared to accept attacks on their conditions, and industrial action could continue unless the company changed its position.

BlueScope again declined to comment, which is in line with its policy.

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