Steel: The Health and Safety Deficit

Port_talbot_large.jpgAs the steel crisis has unfolded, the big question that doesn’t seem to have been asked is; why is it that China can produce steel much more cheaply that we can in the UK?

There are two obvious answers, one is wages, and the other is health and safety. So the question is, if we genuinely believe that work should pay and that factory workers should be safe, why do we import steel (or any other product, like Coal) from countries that clearly do not abide by what we see as basic health and safety requirements?

My suggestion is to create a new tariff on imports called the ‘health and safety premium’. In very broad terms, we should levy any imports into the UK (or indeed anywhere in Europe) with what we think would be the approximate cost of improving health and safety standards to the requirements in this country.

This suggestion would be double edged, firstly and immediately it would put our steel industry on a level playing field, along with our other materials industries and, in the longer term, raising safety standards elsewhere by removing the profits that are currently being made at the cost of health and lives.

Obviously this would be extremely difficult to implement and operate and we’d have a number of challenges from various bodies. However, when the EU works together, it is very powerful body, representing the largest single market in the world(1)! That means that we can act unilaterally and effectively, demanding that the world catches up with our standards, rather than prejudicing our businesses.

Andrew Scopes is a member and contributer to Christians on the Left, based in Leeds. Twitter: @andrew_scopes

(1) http://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/eu-position-in-world-trade/index_en.htm

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commented 2016-04-25 07:38:20 +0100 · Flag
Hi, you’re right Chinese steel is subsidised. However, the point is that the cost of Chinese still would be more comparable to UK steel (in the EU) dues to the ‘health and safety premium’ and therefore the UK steel industry could complete on price terms. It wouldn’t solve some of the bigger structural issues around over production.

Obviously there would be a lot of practicalities which would make it difficult!
commented 2016-04-24 00:59:16 +0100 · Flag
The premium you suggest will not work because the steel industry in China is operating at a loss, sustained only by Chinese government subsidies. Possibly more feasible ways to combat that is either by temporary price controls on imports, or by government subsidy of domestic steel industries.





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