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‘Stand up and support us,’ South Wales steelworkers urge politicians

Steelworkers from South Wales have urged politicians to “stand up and support them” after plans to cut thousands of jobs were unveiled.

Dozens of workers made the 170-mile-trip from Port Talbot to Westminster on Tuesday, urging the Government to protect the future of the industry.

Tata Steel recently announced plans to cut 2,800 jobs from its UK workforce and close both blast furnaces at the town’s works.

Steel crisis
Workers from Tata’s Port Talbot steelworks gather at College Green, in Westminster (Lucy North/PA)

Electrical engineer Jason Wyatt, 41, said workers were being “held in contempt” by Tata, and warned that Port Talbot will fall “further into destitution” should the industry fail.

Mr Wyatt who has been working in the industry for 25 years and lives in nearby Neath continued: “Our message to politicians is step up, stand up and put your support behind us, behind the steel industry.

“Steel is critical to the UK first and foremost, but to Port Talbot, it is the biggest employer in the area, and in contributing to the economy it’s massive in South Wales.

“It’s imperative that we maintain operations on one blast furnace during the transition, at least until the electric arc furnace is brought online.”

Asked about plans to shut both blast furnaces before the new arc furnace is ready, he said: “It would be a massive hit on the job count.

“The business has said they could ship slab steel in to us, but ultimately, we don’t trust what they’re saying.

Steel crisis
Tata Steel plans to shut both blast furnaces before a new electric arc furnace is ready, which workers say would be a ‘massive hit on the job count’ (Ben Birchall/PA)

“The only way to guarantee that we have got some stock is to produce it ourselves.

“Should the industry fail in Port Talbot, the opportunity for people like me and people from the generations coming behind me to go into the work I’m in won’t exist in the locality.

“Port Talbot will fall further and further into destitution. It’s terrible what Tata are doing, they’re holding us in contempt.”

Stephen Surtees, 61, who has been working as a welder at the Port Talbot steel works for nearly 45 years said the industry is a “lifeline” for the local area.

“Port Talbot and Wales can’t afford to lose an industry like that,” Mr Surtees, who lives in nearby Porthcawl said.

“This is the last bastion of the South Wales industry. If we lose that, the devastation caused will be massive, not just for the local community but for further afield as well.

“We need to make the industry part-nationalised again, and make sure that we sustain and grow the steel industry.

“Tata need to look at themselves in the mirror, they’ve been a responsible employer for a good few years.

“They’re letting down not just the workers of Port Talbot, but the UK in general.”

Peter Hughes, Unite secretary for Wales said members were angry about decisions being made by Government.

He added: “It will take three or four years if not five years to build a new electric arc furnace, so we won’t be producing steel till 2029 at the earliest, there’s a massive gap there.

“We actually believe it’s industrial vandalism.

“For every one person who works there, there’s five people in the supply chain.

“This announcement is not just about 2,500 jobs at Port Talbot, this is a matter that will affect probably 12,000 to 15,000 jobs across the South Wales valleys.

“The message for Tata is don’t make any rash decisions now because Labour have already committed three billion pounds for the green steel industry.”

A Government spokesperson said: “The blast furnaces at Port Talbot were losing Tata over £1 million a day.

“Continuing to run at this level of loss risked the company pulling out of South Wales altogether and the loss of 8,000 Tata jobs and 12,000 in the wider steel supply chain.

“The UK Government put in place one of the biggest support packages in history – £500 million – to secure the future of Welsh steel, a transition to cleaner, greener electric arc furnaces, and ensure over 17,000 jobs were preserved.

“In addition we have put together £100 million to create a Transition Board to support those who lose their jobs at Port Talbot.”