Workers at Liberty Speciality Steel in South Yorkshire have faced production restrictions due to high energy costs, leading to operation for only six days over five months. Unite union is calling for political action to support the steel industry, emphasizing the need for 'green steel' funding, price caps on energy, and UK-based steel usage in infrastructure.
The steel industry in South Yorkshire is facing a significant challenge. Workers at the Liberty Speciality Steel’s bar mill in Thrybergh have operated for merely four days across the last three months. The cause of this drastic reduction in production days is attributed to the soaring energy prices. As stated by Unite union representatives, while there is no shortage of orders, the cost of electricity has made it nearly impossible to maintain regular production levels.
The Thrybergh bar mill managed only two days of production in August and an equal number in October. There are plans for another two days of work in December, summing up to a total of six operational days in a five-month span. Despite the reduced production, the company has commendably avoided layoffs, with some workers placed on furlough and others reassigned to cleaning and maintenance duties.
Liberty Speciality Steel, which employs a significant number of people across several sites in Rotherham, is operating below its full capacity. The issue of high operational costs is not isolated to Thrybergh but is a broader concern across the entire UK steel industry.
In response to the production slow-down, Unite union members have demonstrated, seeking political support for the steel industry ahead of the upcoming general election. They are urging the government to adopt procurement rules that prioritize the use of UK-produced steel in infrastructure projects. Moreover, the union is advocating for a substantial investment in transitioning to environmentally sustainable 'green steel' production, without jeopardizing current employment levels.
The union's demands also include tackling the high cost of energy. They suggest imposing price caps and considering public ownership of the National Grid to alleviate the financial strain on steel producers.
A spokesperson for LIBERTY Steel has acknowledged the operational challenges, attributing them mainly to the high energy costs that have long plagued UK industrial competitiveness. LIBERTY Steel has been proactively engaging in high-value production to serve critical sectors such as defense and aerospace while operating under reduced capacity.
As the government prepares for the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement on November 22, the steel industry looks for signs of support, including the extension of the Bills Discount Scheme and policies to foster a more competitive business environment for steel and other strategic industries.
The plight of Liberty Speciality Steel and its workers, grappling with high energy costs, exemplifies the broader struggles of the UK steel industry. As the company and its employees navigate these challenging times with reduced production and wages, there is a clarion call for political intervention. The Unite union's demonstration underscores the urgent need for action to support the sector, preserve jobs, and ensure the industry's transition to sustainable production methods.