WORKERS at Bluescope Steel are reeling after the company announced yesterday it would shed 170 jobs from its Hastings plant.
The shock announcement comes just 15 months after more than 200 people were made redundant during a “restructure” of the Long Island Point steelworks in 2011.
Workers were said to be stunned by Monday morning’s news, after the company had provided assurances in recent weeks when rumours of job cuts began circulating.
“I’m still in shock myself,” said long-time BlueScope employee Billy Hassan yesterday afternoon.
He said the latest round of redundancies would hit harder than those of 2011.
“The guys that stayed [after the last redundancies] knew they would face some hard times before it turned for the better, but they stayed to rebuild the company, only to be hit again,” he said.
Mr Hassan, who has worked at the Hasting plant for 31-years and is a delegate for the Australian Workers’ Union, which represents about 80 per cent of employees at the Hastings works, said alarms bells started ringing on Sunday when workers were asked to attend a company “presentation” on Monday morning.
“There had been rumours for a couple of weeks, but the company had been playing them down and assuring everybody there would be no cuts,” he said.
BlueScope released a statement saying it would “reduce production levels at its Western Port facility and provide significant cost savings”.
Chief executive Mark Vassella said it was “part of our strategy to continually find better ways to do business and remain a cost effective producer”.
“The cost to implement this change is estimated to be around $17 million, but will be recovered within one year through ongoing improvements to the operating cost base,” Mr Vassella said.
Mr Hassan questioned how BlueScope could lay off more workers after accepting $100 million from the public purse in 2011 as part of the federal government’s $300 million steel industry restructure package.
“It’s very hard to accept; we have every right to ask what happened to that money,” he said.
BlueScope said the 170 redundancies would be finalised by mid-March, bringing the number of workers at BlueScope in Hastings to about 500.
This continues a steady decline from 1100 in 2005 and a high of about 1800 in 1980.
With many of BlueScope’s employees living in and around Hastings the redundancies are likely to be felt by suppliers and shopkeepers in the area.
Mr Hassan said BlueScope workers were a “close, tight-knit community” and there was increased fear about the current round of redundancies because many who were laid off in 2011 were still struggling to find work.
“They have been telling us it is not as good out there as they had hoped,” he said.
The decision to reduce production at Western Port follows two disasterous financial results for BlueScope. It posted net losses of $1.04 billion last year and $1.05 billion in 2011.
It has forecast an “underlying net loss approaching break even” this financial year and is due to announce its half-yearly results on Monday 18 February.
The global financial crisis, the continuing high Australian dollar and huge increases in steel output from low cost countries such as China have all contributed to BlueScopes’ woes.
The company is expanding production in Asia and North America.