New funding to reduce carbon emissions positive for industry, union says

E tū and members working at the New Zealand Steel mill in Glenbrook have welcomed the Government’s offer to contribute funding for a new electric furnace to halve coal use at the site.

On Sunday, the Government announced it would be partially funding up to $140 million to reduce carbon emissions at Glenbrook, by replacing an existing steelmaking furnace and two of its four coal-fuelled furnaces with the electric one.

It means half of the steel produced at the site would be made using electricity to recycle scrap metal, rather than producing new steel using coal and iron sands.

Site delegate Lester Udy says the announcement signals “exciting times” for workers and the company.

“New Zealand Steel contributes a lot to our communities and the area in general,” he says.

“Covid illustrated the importance of having industry in New Zealand, and a lot of other businesses benefit from the fact that we produce our own steel here.

Lester says the move represents a solid strategy for reducing carbon emissions in the steel industry and is a positive step for all industry. But workers still need to be at the forefront, he says.

“The transition also needs to be a Just Transition for workers. It’s about finding new and different ways of production, while at the same time making sure workers keep their jobs.”

E tū Negotiation Specialist Joe Gallagher says the announcement is “huge” for the workforce and local community.

“Jobs at the Glenbrook steel mill are high value jobs and critical to the community, so it’s really important that we support steel made in here in Aotearoa.

“The Government’s announcement is about protecting our local steel-making industry for the future by assisting in the transition to lower carbon steel production.

“It means that we’ll keep business here, rather than pushing it offshore.”

Joe says the funding could be a blueprint for other industries to transform to a low carbon model, which will mean they remain viable as the businesses transform in response to climate change.

However, he says a Just Transition for workers will be needed, including reskilling or upskilling, so they are able to take on the new roles required as technology at the site changes.

This also includes working with suppliers and other businesses who will inevitably be affected.

“We need to work with Government, the company, and workers, to create a Just Transition process that can be modified and adapted for other industries, so we are not able to only protect valuable industry but workers and their communities as well.”