Guest post: Steelwork closures - "The emotional impact cannot be costed"
The sudden closure of SSI Redcar steelworks saw 2200 people lose their jobs and a community lose its soul, says Anna Maven
The Steelworker's Wife
Posted on: Tue 27-Oct-15 11:47:08
(38 comments )
We always believed my husband's job at the steelworks was a job for life. And then, a month ago, we received the devastating news that the SSI Redcar plant was to be closed. Paul had been there for four years, but the job was suddenly pulled away from him in a matter of days.
Our daughters, Honor, 4, and Monica, 2, understand little of what has happened - other than that Daddy is around more than normal. Paul and I, meanwhile, have spent the weeks since the news broke in emotional turmoil.
I believe the government could have helped. It didn't. In saying it isn't allowed to help, the government has allowed the plant to close completely. Steel-making will never return to Teeside. The 170-year-old tradition has died. Redcar has lost its soul, the people have lost their pride, the nation has lost an industry to be proud of.
The day before we heard on the news that SSI was to be mothballed, we'd been happily celebrating Honor's birthday. We were together as a family, unaware of how our lives were about to change. When the television news channels started talking about Redcar though the next day, I immediately rang Paul. I wasn't really sure what the term "mothballed" meant. He told me it was likely he would lose his job. If the plant was mothballed, it would be shut down and the staff would be made redundant. However, it would also be left in a state so that a potential buyer could perhaps reopen the site in the future.
Steel-making will never return to Teeside. The 170-year-old tradition has died. Redcar has lost its soul, the people have lost their pride, the nation has lost an industry to be proud of.
My immediate reaction was to burst into tears. Margaret, my colleague, comforted me, in typically English fashion, by offering me a cup of tea. Mondays are always my busiest day of the week. I work as a teaching assistant and immediately after school I usually go to an exercise class followed by choir practice. However, this particular Monday, I needed to go home, be with my family and try to digest the news.
Paul was advised to continue to go to work as normal so returned, as planned, on the Thursday. We were given little information as to what was happening but Paul remained positive and expected to be at work for at least another couple of months covering a consultation and notice period. He also expected to receive a redundancy package of two and a half weeks' wages for each year he had worked at the plant. We could handle this and knew that with our savings we could get us by for at least six months.
But things didn't quite work out like this.
News began to filter through that SSI was going to be put into liquidation. Due to the huge debt the company had run up, it was unable to afford to pay its creditors. Paul's boss told the staff on shift that it was "game over". They were to collect their things and leave the plant. For good. Shock, disbelief, anger and sadness are some of the emotions that Paul and his friends have experienced since that day.
The government has offered an £80m support package. Out of that around £30m has been used to pay the redundancies. Paul received the grand total of £1700, not even a month's wage. That is it. No notice or consultation period.
This leaves us in the desperate position of him needing to find work. Now. We have no idea how to access the money promised for retraining. We cannot get answers, we have been left in the dark along with hundreds of other families.
This week we saw David Cameron in the news wining and dining the Chinese President while taxpayers footed the bill for the ostentatious attempt to broker a deal to build a nuclear power station in Hinkley. An agreement was made for £6 billion in Chinese investment to build two new nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point C in Somerset. This confuses me. Surely steel will be needed to build this power station? Surely skilled men will be needed? Our infrastructure is dying. We are relying on foreign input instead of making use of what we have here in our own country. How can this be right?
My family is facing a very uncertain future. We had plans that are now on hold. The financial impact of the SSI closure is huge, but the emotional impact cannot be costed. Paul is desperately searching for work. I am trying to remain positive but feel emotionally drained. Christmas is looming and we will make the best of it, but the one thing we want is for Paul to be employed again and a chance to start rebuilding our lives.
By Anna Maven
There is a meme doing the rounds a\t the moment which I think sums this up perfectly - DC and the Chinese president, DC thanking China for the cheap steel, Chinese president says 'it won't be cheap anymore when you've stopped all abilities to make steel in the UK muahahaha' quite fitting and probably factual.
I am affected by the same closure - SSI being one of my companys major debtors and now unsure if we will be able to remain in business due to their closure.
Jobs on the line all across the Teesside area and sadly no more being created, deprivation on the decrease though apparently
I had no idea that things went so fast, and that the workers have been treated so badly. It's shameful.
Good luck to your husband, hope he finds a new job soon.
So sorry to hear about your problems. The unfortunate thing about our government they seem to choose whatever or whoever takes their fancy to help rather than looking at the bigger picture and doing what should be done, look at the closed shipyards and coalmines ...
The power however is in our hands come polling day but everyone forgets then !! Look at the lies they told over the oil in Scotland come independence day vote. They said it was running out but after the vote said they had made a mistake. We have a government who line their own pockets and really don't care about us the normal people the people who should matter....Just remember next time you vote.
I have been told that the single biggest civil engineering project in Scotland at the moment - the new Forth Bridge - is being built using imported steel. It is definitely not using steel from Scottish steel plants, according to my friend - and he believes that it's not using steel from UK plants either.
European legislation means that the government cannot choose UK producers over foreign ones, if the deal is better from the foreign producers, so they weren't able to give the work to UK workers and steel plants.
But chinese steel is heavily subsidised by their government, so is always going to be cheaper. Perhaps if our governments were supporting our heavy industries, by providing subsidies, more government projects in the UK would be using UK-made steel.
I know we live in a global economy, and this sort of thing is what happens in a global economy, but I cannot see how it is a good thing for the UK to lose more and more of its heavy industry. If we cannot produce, for example, steel ourselves, we are at the mercy of foreign producers, and will have to pay whatever they want to charge us. And pay to ship it all the way to the UK too - what about the carbon footprint then?
Huge sympathies for the situation you are in now, it must be very scary. Hopefully you will find a way through and a new brighter future will open up
I know Teeside well and can only imagine how devastating the news is as it is such a big employer there. However I can't imagine that it was the "surprising" news you claim, as it is only a handful of years since the plant was last mothballed?
Absolutely awful though that people aren't getting their redundancy money, surely there should be better protection of this??? I can sympathise with the government not wanting to bail out yet again, they have already done this once, but I cannot bear to think of all those people, your family included, not getting any decent notice/ redundancy pay. That is disgraceful and should have been a protected element of the deal they did to get the plant going again last time
I really hope there is some brighter news for Teesside soon, I hope the government are doing all they can to attract new employment opportunities to the area
Have just listened to two steel workers on the radio, it was heartbreaking, they were both in shock, their voices shaking as they were being interviewed.
We need to do more to support industries that employ thousands of people in areas of the UK that need that employment. Sucking up to China will end in tears!
And why have our Government just signed a deal with a Swedish steel company? Its madness!
Trouble is in the previous shut downs and production pauses, I believe the coke ovens were kept burning. I believe this is now no longer the case, the coke ovens are cooling, and that makes it prohibitively expensive to restart the plant.
Teesside is dying. Which is why we reluctantly came abroad earlier this year. I just hope there is something for us to return to in a few years as business like Graphine, and other start ups become, hopefully, bigger and can absorb the Steel workers, along with Wilton redundancies looking for employment.
Sorry some of you are being directly and indirectly shafted by this.
Coming from a steel city it's made me really fucking sad that so many are being thrown under the bus while the capitalist system fails completely to understand the ramifications.
It's not like we should know the drill from dealing with Russia.
The £80 million is all talk. There should be a special job centre set up for those affected by the closure so that money and training can be accessed.
The whole situation is desperately sad. My grandad worked for British Steel for over 30 years it's in our blood on teesside but that's it now, gone forever.
We have capitalism for our manufacturing businesses and socialism for those corrupt banks. There are things that stick in my throat about Hinkley: it'll be owned mostly by EDF (85% owned by the French government) and the Chinese government. They have a guaranteed minimum rate per KwH, again a socialist idea, it's guaranteed for 30 years.
Still, I expect nothing less from the pig fucker and towel folder, they'll get well paid non jobs when they leave parliament.
The UK Energy situation, and its affects on adding to the costs of manufacturing/competitiveness is a joke, as in 2004 the government went on a 'push for nuclear', sold our only expertise Westinghouse to Toshiba of Japan and gave the contract to EDF, and for some unknown reason expected them (owned by the French government) to PAY £10 billion or so for the privilege of building it for us.
No surprise then, for power stations that from planning to completion can take 10-years to build, no shovel ever broke ground, and we are due energy brown outs at the first severe winter.
Meanwhile the likes of France still has around 70% nuclear (from around 90% a few decades back), and Germany, also with the luxury of deciding whether to cut some nuclear power to go green, has HALF our manufacturers energy costs.
U.S. Manufacturing has very cheap energy due to fracking but we don't want that apparently;
The UK wants to 'make things' with expensive energy, with administrations that add tons of regulation and red tape, and only know how to put taxes and other costs of doing business UP - to fund a honking increase in government and unsustainable welfare state - even when Sterling was very uncompetitive to our exporters, as it was in the 2000s pre crash.
Steel is going through a global slump DUE to global over capacity problems built up since the 2000s Steel prices have held at $170 per ton since October 8, having fallen sharply over the last year from above $400 per ton.
In difficult market times, often businesses survive DESPITE government, not thanks to it and manufacturing fell from around 23% of our economy to around 11% by 2010.
Meeting our makers: Britain’s long industrial decline
"Manufacturing went on shrinking under New Labour; the sector’s workforce halved from 4.5 million to 2.5 million between 1997 and 2010."
“Financial and business services,” writes Comfort, “were seen [by the New Labour government] as the way forward for Britain, with manufacturing recognised as globally competitive only in aerospace and pharmaceuticals.” As immigrant workers flooded into Britain’s services and food-processing sector, manufacturing jobs flooded out, mainly to the Far East."
As the UK couldn't keep manufacturing jobs through a global BOOM (as 1 million manufacturing jobs mentioned above went before the crash started), the question we should be asking ourselves is that if we WANT to 'make things' - the UK has to decide whether we have a LOW tax, LOW regs, LOW red tape, LOW government debt service costs, LOW energy price economy - or the previous opposite.
P.S. What we have to remember is that there will always be an emerging market cheap manufacturing costs e.g. labour, low regs/red tape, 'China'; we had the same with Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and now the likes of Vietnam are lining up to take jobs from the Chinese who's salaries used to be less than 1/6th of ours, but have been rapidly rising for a decade.
Such is any country economic cycle, where they start making mass produced tuppeny 'widgets', then tool up to mass produced electronics like TVs, to a 'mature' economy less mass produced higher precision 'value added' goods.
But there are GOOD NEWS signs in the west that as those emerging countries costs are going up, many western manufacturing jobs lost to those buggers CAN come back - but businesses will only relocate to countries they have the ability to cost/plan several years ahead with confidence - and that won't be countries that potentially see ALL businesses as both 'the rich enemy' and a cash cow to fund projects.
I feel for you. I come from a small town in South Wales that only existed because of Steel. Our last steelworks closed in 2000 and my brother and father lost their jobs. Oh yes, there were government and European grants and they did get jobs and the town has survived but they are nmw or low paying jobs.
There was an excellent article in The Guardian yesterday by Aditya Chackrabortty on the Steel Industry and how it would cost less to save it than it cost to bail out RBS and HSBC. It's lunacy, this country needs a steel industry.
for all those affected by the closures. Directly and indirectly.
I agree with the comments about the money being there to help favoured industries but not the steel. And all at a time when we're telling the Chinese we want their steel for HS2 and nuclear power plants. Oh and championing the 'northern powerhouse'.
I do wonder why EU countries are subject to tight controls on pollution and employment rights when they manufacture but then they are allowed to use materials made in areas of the world that are able to ignore those rules, in publicly funded projects.
OP you have my sympathies.
I cannot get my head around the financial guarantees at Hinkley DoctorTwo, all risk to the taxpayer it seems.
Banks and coffee chains are about all that's going to be left in the UK.
UK Manufacturing RIP.
For those who think it doesn't matter, look at Germany.
And yes UK energy prices and regulation are removing jobs to more polluting nations. It makes no logical sense for GLOBAL climate change.
"There was an excellent article in The Guardian yesterday by Aditya Chackrabortty on the Steel Industry and how it would cost less to save it than it cost to bail out RBS and HSBC. It's lunacy, this country needs a steel industry."
People seem to have selected memories of 2007/8, the global financial system was crashing, lite touch regulated UK banks were allowed to grow their balance sheets too much, Northern Rock was gone, there was panic/runs on banks - and no one, or company, was sure that their money was safe.
WE had the deepest and longest recession in over 80-years, and the longest recovery, if anyone thinks not having banks was an option, or that the recovery of the WHOLE economy would have been quicker without finance - they shouldn't be allowed to get near writing an article on finance for a national newspaper. IMO.
P.S. HSBC was not bailed out; ALL banks needed short/medium term liquidity as the global interbank market that provided trillions of liquidity each day had never closed, did close, so a huge difference in Central Banks providing that, to needing the State to buy the shares of banks i.e. RBS and Lloyds.
Surely banks would be better serving a country's economy rather than being a country's economy? Even the Swiss have tourism agriculture and physically make stuff too.
People are making very v a lid points about banks being bailed out so why not SSI.
Problem is banks should never have been bailed out and neither should SSI. Places like Redcar depending on one karge employer are always vulnerable. The Govt help should be about retraining and helping people physically move to another part of the country to get work. Desperate shortage of good skilled trades people in South East and other places too.
Beta trouble is there's a shortage of housing in the SE. And this government won't want to support men to retrain and live in expensive areas until they can support themselves. £1700 to support a family of 4 won't last long in a cheap area let alone an expensive area and if you move people out then the ailing economy in the area will tank completely. And those jobs will be lost slowly and quietly. These towns will die like the Rhondda did.
Another big issue at the moment is the men and women who are now late 40's, worked on the sites their whole lives - since 16 - never known another role and don't even know where to start looking for work are being offered no actual, worthwhile assistance.
When attending a jobs fair yesterday they were offered apprenticeships in being a 'sandwich artist' at Subway!
I have nothing against working in Subway, but for these skilled men and women it is an insult to both their trades and their pride!
The steelworks CANNOT come back to Teesside now, the coke ovens have cooled and the cost implications of setting these back up would far outweigh the financial benefit. Last time, with Corus, these ovens were not stopped.
The opinion felt in this area is very much one of 'if it's not in the SE it doesn't matter' and more and more is that feeling shown backup.
The local area is a primarily Labour constituency - and, as was proven, voting here doesn't make much of a difference in the overall selection.
Seeing a lone man stood outside site this morning with a placard is a sad and depressing thing to be witness to.
Also if you move people hundreds of miles away from their family and support network then you end up with an aging population in need of state support because their children can't be there.
For the quasi capitalist economic/banking system the government is shoring up, what is the purpose of anywhere outside London? Could it perhaps be given over to a nature reserve and the people moved to the job vacancies? Well apart from those with industrial skills who should really go emigrate.
"For the quasi capitalist economic/banking system the government is shoring up, what is the purpose of anywhere outside London?"
No one is shoring it up, if anything it’s the other way around, the City paid around £65 bil of taxes into the Exchequer last year, and a European centre will exist whether here, Paris, or Frankfurt - and one could argue why should they get the tax receipts.
Dec 2014; ”U.K. Financial Firms Paid the Most Tax Since 2007, Report Says”
There tends to be confusion between high street banking That we bailed out) and investment banking, which is global.
The international capital markets in general were responsible for lifting billions out of poverty over the past 30-odd years e.g. emerging countries, put/keeps billions of people globally into jobs and helps governments like ours, finance our (£1.6 trillion) national debt.
Apart from that, just like the Romans, its almost like saying 'what did they ever do for us'.
Meanwhile the constituent parts of the UK are falling apart and booming London becomes unaffordable to many. It's a rum way to run a country.
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