Due to a high rise in commodity prices, basic metal production experienced a boom in the last years. New investments, in most developing countries in the form of FDI, created new possibilities for employment and development. Fuelled by the high prices for metals, mergers and acquisitions considerably changed the industry and created a couple of new global players in an industry that was, some years ago, still characterized by numerous small (often state-owned) enterprises.
As other manufacturing sectors, basic metal production was hit by the economic downturn (although less hard than originally expected, possibly due to the widespread adoption of stimulus packages, which are deemed to have had positive effects on the industry). Nevertheless, precarious employment has risen during the downturn, given companies’ uncertainties about the further developments on the markets, in particularly in relation to the lifecycle end of stimulus packages.
In addition to the industry’s continued globalization and recent, fundamental changes in its raw materials’ market mechanisms, further pressure on the industry has also resulted from climate change discussions and very vocal calls for the industry to reduce its carbon footprint.
At the same time, occupational safety and health remains one of the main challenges in the sector. In comparison to other manufacturing sectors, risks of severe injuries are generally higher in basic metal production, due to the presence of molten metal, toxic chemicals and by-products. These dangers resulting from the nature of the industry are great and need to be adequately addressed, in order to ensure that workers are protected and production can be carried out safely. For this reason, the ILO has paid particular importance to developing codes assisting all those involved in the industry to improve their safety and health records by developing of practice on safety and health. The code of practice on safety and health for the iron and steel industry was published in 2005 and complements the earlier code of practice on non-ferrous metals.