New steel mill denies bribes for jobs claim

United Steel condemns unnecessary protest at old Metso foundry.

International metals and minerals company United Steel, a division of United Heavy Industries, has disassociated itself from allegations that jobs are up for sale at its steel mill, and condemned the protest action at the site, in Mandeni, KwaZulu-Natal, on June 1.

The company recently acquired the business of Metso Minerals at the Isithebe industrial estate and is still in the process of evaluating the workforce it requires.

United Steel assures that it will engage with the community and always follow best practice when taking on new employees. After Metso closed its foundry operations in December last year, United Steel bought its assets. However, while Metso manufactured steel castings, United Steel produces semi-finished ingots and bars of various grades of iron and steel.

United Steel director Kanishka Dhar confirms that the plant in Mandini is in a product testing phase for 12 months to be able to meet international accreditation standards.

“We required only 30 personnel during the start-up phase and advertised on notice boards in the area where Metso usually posted vacancies so that we could hire people from the community, especially those that were previously employed by Metso. We ended up taking on about 50 people, most of whom were former Metso workers,” he says.

However, on June 1, protesters gathered outside the gates of the steel mill, resulting in the plant being barricaded with burning tyres and riot police were called in. Dhar explains that a voice recording was circulated in the community, alleging that security at the gate was charging R1 500 to accept CVs, which is not true.

“It is a blatant untruth that bribes were taken in exchange for CVs being accepted. All our people will be employed on the basis of merit. Since taking over the business from Metso, we have not released any communication to the public apart from the vacancies that were posted on the notice boards. United Steel is part of a global business and we strictly adhere to our golden rules of best corporate governance practice. We place high value on transparency and accountability. All vacancies will be filled in an open and fair manner,” he added.

A meeting between representatives of United Steel and Mandeni mayor Thabani Mdlalose has been scheduled so that the company can share its employment plans and its social development initiatives.

“We are aware that due to violent protest action in the past, many businesses departed, especially from the Isithebe industrial area. This, together with the coronavirus lockdown, has only worsened the unemployment problem in the area. It is most encouraging that the mayor of Mandini is committed to attracting new investors and we will provide all the support necessary to create meaningful jobs as our business expands. We are aware many people lost their jobs when Metso closed its foundry. We hope to eventually fill the unemployment gap by creating up to 100 jobs. Our total investment in the plant over the next 24 months is set to exceed R350 million,” concluded Dhar.