Tata Steel has reportedly pulled back on an announcement that could see as many as 3,000 jobs cut in the UK, which unions have called “the death of UK steel”.
Tata Steel workers have been left at a standstill as the company cancelled a scheduled press conference at the last minute, in which it was expected to reveal its decision to close the two Port Talbot blast furnaces, employing 4,000 people.
The company had even held a meeting with union representatives earlier that day, in which the plans were framed within the company’s decarbonisation and cost-cutting push. However, the board meeting ended with no official confirmation from the group.
That same day, Tata Steel published its financial results, revealing the firm suffered a £135m loss in the last quarter of the year.
The company said it was “not in a position to make a formal announcement about any proposals for a transition to a decarbonised future for Tata Steel UK” and said it hoped to “soon start a formal information and consultation process” with its employee representatives.
Community, GMB and Unite, which had harshly condemned Tata’s plans, are now waiting for a final decision to be made, with the hopes for a more gradual transition. They had previously promised to oppose the plans using every means at their disposal.
“All we want is meaningful consultation with the company,” said Community’s Alun Davies.
Charlotte Brumpton-Childs, national officer at GMB, said workers expected “a full and meaningful consultation before any detailed plans are announced”.
“This plan to close down our iron and steelmaking facilities – while supplying our mills with foreign steel – will put us on a collision course with massive industrial unrest,” she said before the announcement was pulled back. “If this plan remains unchanged, Tata and the UK government have fired the starting gun on the death of UK steel.”
Community’s general secretary Roy Rickhuss described the plans as “disgraceful” and “another kick in the teeth for their loyal workforce and the Port Talbot community”.
“The proposal to close our heavy end is completely unacceptable and we continue to believe the blast furnaces are crucial to the transition to green steelmaking,” he said. “Closing down our industry to import dirty steels from abroad, giving our jobs and our order book to competitors overseas, is not a green plan and we will oppose it with everything we’ve got.”
Tony Brady, Unite’s national officer for steel, added: “Tata and the government’s plan is a bad deal for steel and we need to see them pull back from the brink. There is a just transition for steel available, and an alternative approach for steel will deliver a road map to it. If Tata wants to prevent a major industrial dispute, they must work with the unions.”
Stephen Kinnock, the Labour MP for the area, said it would be “utter madness” to close the heavy end of the steelworks.
“You need a bridge from where we are now to where we want to be,” he told the BBC. “Instead of building a bridge with this proposal we were told was coming today, and I’m very glad that it hasn’t, they weren’t talking about building a bridge – they were talking about putting a load of dynamite under the bridge and blowing it up.”
In September, Tata Steel announced plans to invest in a £1.25bn state-of-the-art scrap-based electric arc furnace (EAF) at Port Talbot, which the government would support with a £500m grant. These furnaces use electricity to melt recycled or scrap steel but are also less labour-intensive, requiring a smaller workforce to operate.
Steel is responsible for 2.4 per cent of the UK’s carbon emissions.
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