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Union officials back ballot for industrial action over Port Talbot job losses

16 Feb 2024 6 minute read
Tata Steel’s Port Talbot steelworks. Photo Ben Birchall/PA Wire

Senior officials of the steelworkers’ union Community have passed a resolution to ballot for industrial action in response to the threat of job losses at Port Talbot and other sites owned by Tata.

The resolution, which was agreed at a meeting of 40 Community representatives from across the UK today, gives the union the formal mandate to ballot its members on strike action.

Earlier this month, Tata Steel started a formal 45-day consultation on restructuring plans which are set to lead to thousands of job losses in Wales.

The company is planning to shut down blast furnaces at its plant in Port Talbot, the largest steelworks in the UK, and switch to a more environmentally friendly way of producing steel.

The move is expected to lead to the loss of around 2,800 jobs.

Community represents more steelworkers than any other union, including the vast majority of workers impacted by Tata’s decarbonisation plans.

Last resort

Community Union General Secretary Roy Rickhuss CBE said: “Industrial action is always a last resort, but Tata’s actions mean we now have to prepare for that eventuality.

Recent statements from the leadership of Tata Steel leave little doubt the company is determined to impose its devastating proposals come what may, making a complete mockery of the ongoing consultation process.

“There is still time for Tata to change their position, but as things stand, we are heading towards a major industrial dispute. Community’s senior officials have unanimously endorsed balloting our membership for industrial action, and we are preparing for that ballot to take place as soon as is practically possible.

“Tata should take note – we are prepared to fight for our industry and our communities. We will not be walking silently into the night.”

Community Union Assistant General Secretary Alasdair McDiarmid added: “Whilst the consultation on Tata’s plan is still ongoing, recent comments from the senior leadership of Tata Steel have brought that process into disrepute. It is apparent that Tata are no longer considering alternatives to their disastrous plan to install a 3 million tonne electric arc furnace, which we have always said is completely unacceptable, and we are seriously concerned the consultation is a sham.

“Tata’s attempts to misrepresent and discredit the credible alternative Multi-Union Plan have been quite frankly disgraceful. Tata must think again, and engage with us in meaningful consultations to secure a just transition and the future of Port Talbot and all the downstream sites.

“Rishi Sunak has to step up too and back our industry to the extent the German Government is backing theirs. The Multi-Union Plan has received unanimous cross-party support in the Senedd, the backing of industry experts and MPs across the house and can be delivered if only our Government matches the ambition of our European neighbours.”

Viable future

A Tata Steel spokesperson said: “While our £1.25 billion commitment with the UK Government will ensure a long-term viable future for low CO2 steelmaking in the UK, our current business is unsustainable.

“Much of our existing iron and steelmaking operation in Port Talbot is at the end of its life, is unreliable and inefficient, and contributing to losses of £1.7million a day in the last quarter alone.

“Our restructuring proposals would mean that we are able to sustain the business as we transition to new electric arc furnace technology.

“We believe we have a very exciting future ahead, providing the high quality, low-CO2 steels that our customers in the UK and overseas are so desperate for.

“Furthermore, producing steel from scrap that already exists in significant quantities in the UK rather than importing iron ore and coal from across the world, will be the foundation for more resilient UK manufacturing supply chains.

The spokesperson continued: “Following the announcement of the company’s restructuring proposals on 19 January, we have started a formal information sharing and consultation process with our trades union colleagues, which will continue for at least 45 days.

“Our discussions are being held in an open, collaborative and constructive fashion and will cover the support to be provided for affected employees.”

Concerning

A UK Government spokesperson said: “We recognise that this is a concerning time for Tata’s employees at Port Talbot and we will continue to support staff affected by the transition.

“The UK government has put in place one of the biggest support packages in history, with a £500 million grant as part of the £1.25 billion commitment by Tata to secure the future of the Welsh steel industry.

“Additionally, £100 million has been put towards the creation of a Transition Board – £80 million from the UK government and £20 million from Tata Steel. The Board is chaired by the Secretary of State for Wales, to directly support those affected.

“This record level of support shows just how much the UK Government values the Welsh steel industry and the people and communities whose livelihoods depend on it.”

Industrial action

Unite announced later that it will begin balloting its members at Tata for industrial action.

Voting will start on March 8 and close on April 9. Industrial action could begin before the end of April.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Tata has failed to halt its disastrous and destructive plans for Port Talbot, the Welsh economy and the UK as a whole. Even though Unite has secured significant investment for the sites from Labour.

“Tata’s actions is one of industrial vandalism and will be fought.

“Only determined action can break the spiral of decline that has gripped our steel industry. Demand for low carbon steel is growing and the UK must be at the forefront of the green steel revolution. This is an opportunity to grow jobs not cut them.

“Steel is a foundation industry that underpins a quarter of the UK’s GDP. Becoming reliant on imports in an increasingly unstable world will have disastrous results.

“Our political leaders must shock proof our economy and ensure that Tata’s catastrophic plans are consigned to the dustbin of history.

“Unite’s unremitting focus on its members jobs, pay and conditions means we always fully support them during any industrial dispute, with all the required resources needed, including the union’s multimillion-pound strike fund.”


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Gareth
Gareth
1 month ago

By voting for Brexit, this area turned their backs on the protection the EU was giving the European steel industry, they put their trust in a gov who opposed the EU steel import restrictions to protect its steel plants, and now they plan to strike and ask for support from the very gov who wanted Brexit and opposed helping them while they were still EU members. Nothing will be forthcoming in the way of protection of jobs from Sunak and co. You signed onto the dole they day you voted for Brexit.

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