IndustriALL discusses the importance of building a safe and responsible steel sector

To mark World Day for Safety and Health at Work, we spoke with Matthias Hartwich, Director for Mechanical Engineering and Base Metals at ResponsibleSteel member IndustriALL, about the importance of a safe and healthy workplace, labour rights, and how we can work to build a more responsible steel industry.

Why is World Safety Day important?

The members of our affiliated unions, the men and women, all workers, are the ones who make the steel. They are the ones who either live or die, who return in either good or bad health from their workplaces in the steel industry. If anything goes wrong, they pay with their health, or even with their lives. That is why we support every effort to improve working conditions and occupational health and safety measures.

It’s so important having you as a member of ResponsibleSteel – what do you think the main benefits are in being part of our community?

For IndustriALL, it is important to represent our affiliates in a growing organization aimed at producing steel in a responsible way. Within ResponsibleSteel, we, as a global trade union can give the men and women working in the industry a voice in the discussions on ResponsibleSteel’s standards and on what producing steel in a responsible manner means for workers and their unions around the world. Having this multi-stakeholder approach is crucial.

You do extraordinary work on labour relations and trade union advocacy worldwide – how do you think ResponsibleSteel can better contribute to our shared agenda?

We will invite ResponsibleSteel’s CEO to our next sectorial steering committee meeting as a guest speaker. I hope this will give us a better understanding of where we can cooperate and where we cannot. I am sure there is a lot of common ground to cover, but responsibility is also on our end. IndustriALL needs to provide input so that ResponsibleSteel can see where the organization can and wants to contribute.

What do you think the top three priorities should be for the steel sector right now in relation to social justice/human rights/labour rights?

Most importantly, I think that a general understanding and respect for ILO Core Labour Standards & Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work are crucial in every steel and mining operation that seeks to be certified by ResponsibleSteel.

Today, on International Workers’ Memorial Day, we are remembering our dead or disabled colleagues in the steel sector. Hence, a core question is to make sure that the ILO conventions referring to health and safety are respected and reviewed during certification procedures. The conventions are:

  • Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention no. 187
  • Occupational Safety and Health Convention no. 155
  • Occupational Health Services Convention no. 161

It is also crucial to adopt a general approach of Just Transition in the steel industry. This goes beyond ResponsibleSteel’s remit, but we think that a changing steel industry needs the workers’ perspective when it comes to piloting through the upcoming changes in our important industry.

Why is it so important to have a global standard for the steel industry? How does this help to protect workers’ rights?

Workers’ and unions’ rights must become indispensable when certifying steel. ResponsibleSteel can be of great support to achieve this. The standard can deliver and support this – especially if we train our certification bodies accordingly.

What does responsibility mean to you in relation to the steel industry and workers’ rights?

Steel producers along the value chain must accept responsibility for fair treatment of their employees, including sub-contractors. The ILO conventions above are key. If every steel producer in the world applies these standards, we will make huge progress, both for the workers, but also for the industry as a whole.

As ResponsibleSteel has started to engage the global steel industry in its certification programme, what do you foresee being the greatest challenges to this process and how might we overcome them?

So far, some steel producers do not include workers’ rights in their responsibilities. This may be partly due to a lack of knowledge and partly due to disrespect. Auditors and certification bodies must keep an eye on this during the certification process. In addition, our affiliated unions need to keep an eye on ongoing certifications and must sound the alarm if things are not progressing according to our standards. All elements of ResponsibleSteel’s Standard must be respected in order to become certified.

Where would you like to see the steel industry by 2030 in terms of labour relations? What do you think we should be hoping to achieve?

I’d love to see a steel world where ILO Core Conventions and Health and Safety conventions are respected in every steel operation worldwide. This should happen for the direct employees, but also for the indirect, or subcontracted workers, as well as for the workers along the supply chain. I hope that we achieve to cover a critical size of the annual tonnage with our standard and with respective certifications.

What does climate justice mean to your members/IndustriALL?

This is easy and hard to achieve. We demand what we call Just Transition. This simply means that no worker – regardless of blue or white collar, regardless of directly employed or subcontracted – is left behind in the transition process that the steel industry will go through.

In other words: we want to see a climate-neutral steel industry that still offers clean, healthy and good workplaces, where men and women in the industry are proud to contribute to responsibly produced, climate-neutral steel. This is what sustainability is all about.

IndustriALL Global Union represents 50 million workers in 140 countries in the mining, energy and manufacturing sectors and is a force in global solidarity taking up the fight for better working conditions and trade union rights around the world.

IndustriALL challenges the power of multinational companies and negotiates with them on a global level. IndustriALL fights for another model of globalization and a new economic and social model that puts people first, based on democracy and social justice.

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