While no firm plans or strategy emerged from crisis talks convened by Minister Macfarlane which included BlueScope Steel, workers, politicians, unions and other stakeholders at the University of Wollongong’s Innovation Campus this morning, Sharon Bird and Stephen Jones were heartened by four agreements from the roundtable meeting:
1 – There was unanimous support for the long-term viability of steel making in the region and a number of proposals were put forward for the Minister’s consideration;
2 – A commitment to the long-term diversification of the regional economy. At the time of the last BlueScope restructure, the then Labor Government’s quick response in supporting the local area was a success and double digit unemployment figures, that had been predicted, were avoided. The local economy is resilient but would benefit from increased government support for diversification. This could include projects such as the expansion of uses at the Port and the construction of the Maldon Dombarton Rail Link.
3 – It is critically important that assistance is provided to workers who will be made redundant, including workers in other sectors who have already lost their jobs, and we welcome the Minister’s reconsideration of the appointment of the Illawarra Local Employment Coordinator, a local entrepreneur adviser and the consideration of a training package for workers.
4 – The Federal Labor members additionally called on Minister Turnbull to establish a mechanism whereby local workers could benefit from the 1,300 jobs in NSW which NBN Co are seeking to fill to speed up the rollout of the NBN.
Given the excellent skills base of these workers they would be ideal, with some additional training, to take up these job opportunities.
“I welcome the commitment to look to find new job opportunities and support for the necessary training for local workers who have been retrenched not only in manufacturing, but also other industries in the Illawarra recently,” Sharon Bird said.
“The expanded use of the Port, for example by defence industry, and the construction of the Maldon Dombarton Rail Link would also provide a much needed boost to the local economy.
Stephen Jones said that with 9,500 people looking for work in the region, the Minister’s agreement to consider all options to keep BlueScope open.
“Steel is a critical industry for the Illawarra and it was great to see government, business and unions in unanimous agreement and the Minister willing to consider all proposals put forward.
The Federal Labor Members indicated that the discussion today was productive but the proof will be in the delivery which needs to have some urgency to ensure the wellbeing of the steel industry, the local economy and the local workforce.