Fight for Port Talbot steel jobs ‘is not over’ say unions despite Tata Steel final decision

Article by Aniqah Majid

Tata said unions' proposal to keep one blast furnace operational at Port Talbot until 2032 was 'unaffordable'

UNIONS have promised strike action after Tata Steel rejected their plan to keep one blast furnace open at its Port Talbot site in South Wales, the largest steelworks in the UK.

Tata said Community and GMB’s multi-union plan, which involved keeping blast furnace running until 2032, was “unaffordable”, and plans to replace both blast furnace No.4 and No.5 with a £1.2bn (US$1.5bn) electric arc furnace (EAC).

Unions have called the move a betrayal and a cost-cutting measure, with Unite, whose members have already voted for strike action, labelling Tata’s alternative plan a “sham”.

Alun Davies, Community’s national officer for steel, said: “It’s vital that we take a stand together and send a message to Tata that we will not go quietly into the night. As someone who has had the privilege of working at Port Talbot and Llanwern, I know first-hand how steel is part of our lifeblood here in South Wales.”

Tata’s EAF economic saviour

Tata Steel’s UK division incurred significant losses in 2023, reporting a net loss of £330m between April and December. In the Q4 2023 period, the company said it lost around £1.7m a day.

The Indian multinational said the union plan would incur £1.6bn in operational costs, adding to the costs and supply chain issues of the last six months, which saw Tata supplement production with 333,000 t of imported material.

It hopes the installation of a 3.2m t/y EAC will secure 5,000 UK jobs and save 5m t/y of CO2 in steel production.

TV Narendran, CEO of Tata, said: “Tata Steel is committed to creating a low-CO2 steel business at the heart of a green industrial ecosystem in Wales and the wider UK to safeguard steel supplies and create economic opportunities for generations to come.”

Around 4,000 of Tata’s 8,000 workers in the UK work at the Port Talbot site, with 2,800 jobs set to be lost due to the closure of the blast furnaces.

Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of Community, said that the multi-union plan would have helped the company returned to profits, with a £450m cash injection from the government.

What happens now?

Tata and the UK government have promised to support laid-off workers by either finding them new jobs or upskilling them through the UK Steel Enterprise job creation scheme.

The company has set up a £100m fund to support affected workers, which is managed by the UK government-run Tata Steel/Port Talbot Transition Board. Around £20m of this fund will be used for upskilling and job search assistance.

The Welsh government said it will also work with the Transition Board to ensure support is available for workers and their families.

David TC Davies, secretary of state for Wales, said: “Under the plans there will be funding for the retraining of steelworkers, support for businesses in the supply chain, and investment in regeneration projects in Port Talbot.”

Additionally, Tata will launch a voluntary redundancy process from 15 May, a supplement to its financial support package which offers all full-time employees a minimum redundancy payment of £12,500, as well as a retention ex-gratia payment of £5,000 for affected employees.

Tata will continue negotiating with trade union over the next week on a memorandum of understanding for the job security of Port Talbot workers.

Unite, which represents 1,500 Tata workers, said it plans to announce strikes soon, and Community is holding a ballot for industrial action for its members which expects to conclude on 9 May.

Though all major equipment at the Port Talbot site is expected to cease operation this year, Tata has agreed to keep the hot strip mill running, a machine that reheats and thins semi-finished steel, throughout the transition.

The company expects construction of the EAC to begin in 2025 and is working with National Grid to have commissioning of the equipment ready for 2027.

Article by Aniqah Majid

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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