Workers at steel giant Tata to strike in protest against job losses

Workers at steel giant Tata are to strike in protest at the company’s plans to close blast furnaces with the loss of jobs.

Unite said around 1,500 of its members based in Port Talbot and Llanwern, south Wales, will begin an indefinite strike on July 8.

Unite members are already working to rule and banning overtime but the announcement of a strike is a significant escalation.

Tata is switching to a greener form of steel production which requires fewer staff, so up to 2,800 jobs are being cut.

Unite said it will be the first time in over 40 years that steel workers in the UK have taken strike action.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Tata’s workers are not just fighting for their jobs – they are fighting for the future of their communities and the future of steel in Wales.

“Our members will not stand by while this immensely wealthy conglomerate tries to throw Port Talbot and Llanwern on the scrapheap so it can boost its operations abroad.

“They know south Wales is ideally placed to take advantage of the coming boom in green steel – if the right choices are made.

“The strikes will go on until Tata halts its disastrous plans. Unite is backing Tata’s workers to the hilt in their historic battle to save the Welsh steel industry and give it the bright future it deserves.”

Community and the GMB unions are also campaigning against the plans but have ruled out taking industrial action before the General Election.

The unions expect an incoming Labour government to hold emergency talks with Tata to discuss alternatives to its proposals.

Tata has made it clear it is pressing ahead with switching from blast furnace production to an electric arc, as other steel companies are doing.

Tata says it is losing £1 million a day at Port Talbot which it has warned is unsustainable.

The company offered an enhanced redundancy package to workers affected by the plans, but this was reduced after Unite started its industrial action earlier this week.

– The strike announcement comes two years to the day since members of the RMT rail union went on strike, kicking off a wave of walkouts by hundreds of thousands of workers over pay and conditions, including nurses, teachers and junior doctors.

Alun Davies, national officer for steel at the Community union, said: “Community and GMB senior officers met last week and made the decision not to schedule any industrial action before the General Election has taken place.

“If the Labour Party wins the General Election it has said that it will hold emergency talks with Tata on the future of Port Talbot and the downstream sites as soon as possible.

“We welcome this, and now feel it is important to wait for the completion of that process before initiating any significant course of action. If and when we do take industrial action, that decision will be made by Community members, who represent the vast majority of workers impacted by Tata’s damaging plans.”

A Tata Steel spokesperson said: “We are extremely disappointed by Unite’s unilateral decision to call strike action.

“Our existing steelmaking assets are near the end of their life, are operationally unstable and causing unsustainable losses of £1 million a day. This is why preparations to close the blast furnaces and associated plants in Port Talbot are unchanged.

“However, if the safety and stability of our operations are put at risk by this action, we will be forced to accelerate those closure plans.

“After extensive negotiations with our unions we substantially improved our support offering for affected employees – the most generous package in our history. Rather than taking strike action, we would have expected Unite to put our improved offer to its members, as previously accepted by all unions, including Unite.”