Fight for your rights

August 09, 2002 ,

GERHARD Schroeder, the German Chancellor, faces an election soon, with unemployment standing at more more than four million. In Wales, unemployment is the lowest for over 25 years.

So when we read about job losses we should remember that, overall, Britain's recent economic performance has been remarkable. But the end of steel-making at ASW in Cardiff is a big blow.
We should not accept it without a fight. This is not the steel industry of the 70s, in which I worked for a short period, which made massive losses due to over-manning and bad management.

Thanks to the efforts of the Cardiff workforce, ASW has made great improvements in efficiency in recent years. It had 50 per cent of the UK reinforcing bar market for construction and a strong order book. It has partly been a victim of changes in its credit rating by the moneymen.

Despite every effort possible by the Government and Assembly to persuade the financiers to hold off, the bankers pulled the plug.

It is a tragedy for the loyal workforce, many of whom have worked there for decades.

Priority number one now must be to get as many of these jobs back as possible.

There are various hints that a potential buyer is out there, ready to take on steel-making again in Cardiff. If so, there is a highly skilled workforce ready and able to do the job.

But if there really is a potential buyer, they need to start talking to the workers, their union, and community representatives, including councillors, AM and MPs.

As one steelworker put it to me, "How can we sell ourselves if we are not given the chance?"

There is also the issue of the pension fund. Next month the government will publish a consultation document on company pension schemes.

After the scandal of Robert Maxwell, who raided his workers' pensions to fund his collapsing business empire, the law was changed to prevent abuse. But there must now be more reform.
The ASW pension fund is being wound up.

All pension schemes are under pressure at the moment because of the state of the stock market.
The stock market is essentially a casino where people bet on the value of second hand shares.
Over a long period, say 50 years, it tends to rise in value at a better rate than other assets, including property. But there are sharp peaks and troughs along the way.

If your pension scheme is wound up with the stock market in a trough, then it will struggle to meet its commitments. The law says that existing pensioners have to be paid first. But loyal workers, who have carried on contributing to the fund, are last in the pecking order.

It is too late for workers at ASW, but the government must tighten up the rules to protect loyal employees who have worked hard in the perfectly reasonable expectation of a decent pension.

It just goes to show that the workers often bear more of the risk than the boss.In Saddam Hussein's Iraq opponents of the leader are interviewed by the Secret Police and never seen or heard of again.