An expected announcement on the future of the country’s biggest steel plant has been delayed at the last minute, leaving the future of thousands of Welsh steelworkers in the balance.
Unions had been expecting confirmation of up to 3,000 job losses at Port Talbot in South Wales and associated businesses. However, the board of Tata Steel, the Indian owner of the mill, is understood to be still working on a final proposal which could be announced next week.
Port Talbot workers have been forewarned about expected mass redundancies after a deal six weeks ago in which the UK government promised Tata Steel £500 million of support to end production of steel through its polluting, energy-intensive blast furnaces and move to a more environmentally friendly electric arc furnace process fed by scrap.
Unions warned that an immediate end to blast furnace production of virgin steel was the wrong solution not only because of the expected job losses but because it would mean that steel mills around the country producing higher grade goods such as car components would be forced to import steel from blast furnaces from abroad.
Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of the Community steel union, indicated that Tata may yet be rowing back on its plans for job losses which other trade unions have warned would result in widespread industrial unrest.
Calling for a “just transition” on the road to decarbonisation, Rickhuss, said: “It’s important the company uses this opportunity to pause and engage with the unions to develop alternative options to decarbonise our industry.”
Unite, Britain’s largest industrial union, said that the government should take a stake in Port Talbot to secure a future for steelmaking in the UK.
“Taxpayers should not be footing the bill for new investment unless that is linked to binding job guarantees,” Sharon Graham, its general-secretary, said. “Tata’s sole purpose is serving its shareholders, not UK steel communities. Only by the government taking a stake in the company, will the right choices be made for the UK’s economy.”