The never-ending story of Italy’s biggest steel mill

The setting: Ilva di Taranto, Europe's largest steel mill. The characters: the mill owners and workers protesting layoffs. The supporting roles: the environment and public health. 

Ingrid Colanicchia
Ingrid Colanicchia MicroMega, Italy
Source: MicroMega
The never-ending
story of Italy’s biggest steel mill - NewsMavens
Smokestacks. Wikicommons

Why this story matters:

What happened at Ilva di Taranto, Europe's largest steel mill, is a typical story in Italy. Its existence drags on in typically Italian fashion. Year after year, workers protest against cuts announced by the factory, while matters of environment and health are put on the backburner. Without ever reaching a satisfactory solution, employees and everyone else is left feeling uncertain.

And so, Ilva di Taranto keeps making the headlines, as is the case once again this week.

The government and labor unions are currently involved in a bitter struggle with the new owners of the mill, the Am Investco consortium. Am Investco (formed by world steel leader ArcelorMittal and the Marcegaglia group) announced a business restructuring plan that only accounts for a fraction staff. The Ilva Group employs 14,000 people but the plan includes only 9,930 jobs. In other words, about 4,000 people (3,300 from Taranto, the rest in the Genova Cornigliano and Novi Ligure factories) are set to be laid off.

The Minister for Territorial Cohesion and the South, Claudio De Vincenti, said that employees could stay on in an 'extraordinary' capacity. But the picture is not rosy: even then, all workers would start from scratch, with entry-level salaries and no seniority benefits.

This bleak-looking future led workers to strike and prompted the government to tense up at a meeting between the concerned parties at the economy ministry on Monday, Oct. 9.

But workers’ well-being is only one side of this Italian tragedy. Public and environmental health should also be taken into account.

According to the green Legambiente NGO, Taranto is one of Italy's most polluted industrial cities. The city hosts a refinery (ENI), a cement plant (CEMENTIR) and a port for raw materials and finished goods, as well as the Ilva steel mill. The area most exposed to industrial emissions, given its proximity to open-air mining facilities and open-air mining parks, is that of the densely populated Tamburi district, but the issue should concern the whole city and its neighboring municipalities.

With the complexity of the situation compounded by the arrival of a new stakeholder, it is not likely that this story will end anytime soon. How typically Italian that our industry is simultaneously battling issues of the 20th and 21th century.

Details from the story:

  • The 70-year-old steel plant Ilva di Taranto is located in an area northwest of the city of Taranto, and occupies an area of just under 15 km2.
  • Ilva di Taranto’s new owners, the Am Investco consortium, have announced a corporate restructuring plan that includes 4,000 redundancies out of the 14,200 workers, including 3,300 in the city of Taranto.
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