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Thousands of jobs at risk as Tata ‘presses ahead with plan to close furnaces’

Thousands of jobs at risk as Tata ‘presses ahead with plan to close furnaces’

Steel giant Tata is to press ahead with plans to close blast furnaces at its biggest plant, threatening more than 3,000 jobs, according to sources.

Unions were meeting the company on Thursday after presenting alternative proposals aimed at saving jobs in Port Talbot, South Wales.

Sources said Tata rejected the plan and were pressing ahead with proposals for a greener form of steelmaking to cut emissions and stem financial losses.

Unions will consult their members on how to respond to job losses, with industrial action not being ruled out.

Sources said Tata accepted a union plea to keep the hot strip mill open over a transition period, supporting hundreds more jobs.

A Tata Steel spokesman said ahead of the meeting: “We have recently announced a joint agreement between Tata Steel and UK Government for a proposal to invest in state-of-the art Electric Arc Furnace steelmaking in Port Talbot.

“We are committed to meaningful information sharing and consultation with our trade union partners about the plan to develop sustainable steelmaking in the UK and to find solutions for concerns they may have.

“While those discussions are ongoing it would not be appropriate to comment further.”

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Jane Dodds said: “I am deeply disappointed to hear that Tata Steel will be closing their remaining blast furnaces in the UK, something which could have a devastating impact on communities across the country, particularly in Port Talbot, where the local economy is reliant on the nearby steel plant.

“The UK Conservative Government, through their inability to support investment into UK steel, has failed towns like Port Talbot across the country.

“If the UK Government was willing to implement a real and sustainable industrial strategy that protected jobs whilst simultaneously supporting the transition to low carbon sectors, we wouldn’t find ourselves in this mess.

“But now we are here, on the verge of witnessing the destruction of Port Talbot.

“The Prime Minister and his cabinet will never know what it’s like for the thousands of workers at risk of losing their jobs, they will never know the constant worrying and anxiety that comes with the prospect of losing one’s livelihood.”

Stephen Kinnock, Labour MP for Aberavon, home of the Port Talbot steelworks, said: “Tata’s decision to follow the Conservative business model of managed decline for British steelmaking will cause the job losses of 3,000 hard-working men and women, each of whom have dedicated their lives to an industry which underpins Britain’s automotive industry, railways, defence sector, consumer goods, construction, wind turbines and so much more.

“Global demand for steel is actually growing, but by pursuing a narrow electric arc furnace-only model, Tata Steel will be unable to seize the commercial opportunities of the future, while at the same time leaving Britain more dependent on imported steel from countries whose governments won’t always have Britain’s best interests at heart.”

The National Trade Union Steel Coordinating Committee said in a statement: “The steel unions met today with a senior Tata Steel delegation led by Koushik Chatterjee, and the company responded to the multi-union plan laying out an alternative decarbonisation strategy for Tata Steel UK.

“We will be communicating the outcomes of the meeting to our members in the first instance, as is right and proper, and we will make a further more detailed public statement in due course.”

Charlotte Brumpton-Childs, GMB national officer, said: “Large-scale job losses would be a crushing blow to Port Talbot and UK manufacturing in general.

“It doesn’t have to be this way – unions provided a realistic, costed alternative that would rule out all compulsory redundancies.

“This plan appears to have fallen on deaf ears and now steelworkers and their families will suffer.”

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham accused Tata of ‘playing games with people’s livelihoods’ (PA)

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “As yet, Tata are still playing games with people’s livelihoods.

“Whatever and however they announce their plans for Port Talbot, Unite will fight tooth and nail to defend steel workers and our steel industry.

“We have already clearly demonstrated how and why Tata should be expanding UK steel production in line with growing demand.

“The Government now needs to step in and step up.

“This is the time to defend British workers and communities, as well as our industrial base and our national security.

“More managed decline can only help the UK’s competitors, steel producers in other countries.

“Politicians need to make the right choices now or they will not be forgiven easily.”

A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister said she could not comment on “speculation in relation to commercial matters”.

“More broadly, our commitment to the steel sector is clear.

“We committed £500 million of the UK Government support that will transform the site and also protect thousands of jobs.

“We will continue to work closely with the industry and with Tata steel.”

A UK Government spokesperson said: “We are determined to secure a sustainable and competitive future for the UK steel sector, which is why we have committed £500 million of UK Government support that will transform the site and protect thousands of jobs – both in Port Talbot and throughout the supply chain.

“Engagement with trade unions is rightly a company-led process. There is a broad range of support for staff affected, including a dedicated Transition Board backed by £80 million funding from UK Government and £20 million from Tata Steel.

“Chaired by the Welsh Secretary with ministerial representation from the Welsh Government, the board will support both affected employees and the local economy.”

The Welsh government’s Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething, said: “We are in discussion with Tata Steel UK and the recognised trade unions and have approached the UK Government regarding proposals concerning the future of the company’s operations in Wales.

“This is not just an issue for Wales, steel is a sovereign asset and should be treated as such by the UK Government.”