Tata Steel urged to 'pull back from the brink' as Port Talbot jobs announcement delayed

ITV Cymru Wales
Tata Steel's Port Talbot plant employs more than 8,000 people and churns out 4.5 million tonnes of steel. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

An expected announcement on job losses at Tata Steel's Port Talbot plant has been delayed.

The board of the steel giant met in India on Wednesday 1 November to discuss its plans to decarbonise the site.

Unions had expected confirmation of thousands of job losses.

Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of the Community Union is now calling for the company to "not close down the industry" urging it to "pull back from the brink" of any major decision as it moves towards a greener future.

A Tata Steel spokesman said: "We hope to start formal consultation with our employee representatives shortly." Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

He said: "The unions do not accept the closure of the heavy end and we continue to believe the blast furnaces are crucial to the transition to green steelmaking.

"We will never accept Tata and the Government's plan to close down our iron and steelmaking facilities and supply our mills with foreign steel for however many years it takes for them to build an electric arc furnace (EAF).

"Closing down our industry to import dirty steels from abroad, giving our jobs and our order book to competitors overseas, is not a green plan and we will oppose it with everything we've got".

Tata warned last year that its UK operations were under threat unless it secured government funding to help it move to less carbon-intensive electric arc furnaces.

A Tata Steel spokesman said: “Despite today’s press commentary, we are not in a position to make a formal announcement about any proposals for a transition to a decarbonised future for Tata Steel UK.

“We hope to soon start a formal information and consultation process with our employee representatives, in which we would share more details about any such proposals.

“We believe our £1.25 billion proposal to transition to green steel making will secure the business for the longer term, bolster UK steel security and help develop a green ecosystem in the region.

“We are committed to a meaningful information and consultation process with our trade union partners and will carefully consider any proposals put forward.”

The UK Government will give up to £500m and Tata will spend hundreds of millions of pounds on a development aimed at securing the future of the plant.

"Port Talbot town was built around Port Talbot steelworks. If we lose [the steelworks] then we're destroying the community." Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

With Tata not making any announcement today, Unite general secretary Sharon Graham has condemned the steel giants' "consideration of mass redundancies" and doesn't see the need "for one single job cut".

The union has called on the government to intervene immediately by taking a stake in the UK steel industry to ensure that it not only survives but also thrives

Ms Graham said: "Taxpayers should not be footing the bill for new investment unless that is linked to binding job guarantees.

"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.

"The UK steel industry is at a crossroads and there is a clear political choice. Politicians need to decide now whose side they are on.

"Unite's plan for steel would see the UK once again become a world leader in steel, doubling production, safeguarding employment and creating thousands of new jobs." 

Tony Davies has worked at the plant for 31 years Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Port Talbot has two blast furnaces to produce steel used in everything from cars to cans.

Research from Cardiff University found that the total economic impact of Tata was £3.2 billion in Wales per year.

Tony Davies, who has worked at the plant for 31 years, told ITV Wales last month how some of the youngsters who had recently joined the company were now "panicking" about the future of their livelihoods.

He told ITV Wales: "Port Talbot town was built around Port Talbot steelworks. If we lose [the steelworks] then we're destroying the community."

Green Party Wales leader Anthony Slaughter said, "Earlier this week we visited Port Talbot with Green Party deputy leader Zack Polanski to highlight the need for a truly just transition in the steel industry.

"Workers and unions must be central to all discussions and planning for the vital shift to clean, green steel production."

What is the history of steel in Port Talbot?

It is difficult to overstate the connection between the steelworks and the Port Talbot community.

There has been a steelworks in the town almost since it first appeared on maps. The first plant was built by William Gilbertson in Port Talbot between 1901 and 1902.

As the industry grew and developed, so did the town. High-paid jobs, five-day work weeks and catered meals meant the number of people moving to the town soared. There needed to be more homes to house the steelworkers.

By 1951, the town had another new steelworks. The Abbey Works, now the Tata plant, was up and running and producing steel by 1953.

There has been a steelworks in Port Talbot almost since it first appeared on maps. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

The Port Talbot works soon became the biggest steelwork plant in Europe, with a workforce of 18,000 by the 1960s.

In the late 1960s, the steelworks were taken into public ownership under the British Steel Corporation.

This company later became privatised as steel production in the UK started to slow down. The British Steel Corporation merged with another steel producer to create Corus Steel Limited in 1999.

The steelworks had employed 13,000 people in the '80s, but by the end of the decade, they employed just over 4,000.

In 2007, Corus Steel was acquired by the Indian multinational, Tata Steel Limited, for more than $10 billion.

The company rebranded as 'Tata Steel Europe' in 2011.

Producing steel requires heating carbon and iron to an extremely high temperature. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

What is a coal fire blast furnace?

Producing steel requires heating carbon and iron to an extremely high temperature.

These elements are mixed together in a huge vertical pipe. It's heated with preheated gas which is literally blasted into the pipe to create extreme heat.

To achieve such high temperatures, the Port Talbot plant uses large amounts of coal which is burnt to create a hard, grey material called 'coke'.

The byproduct of the process is damaging to the environment. Some of the main byproducts are carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide.

This makes the Tata Steel plant in Port Talbot the UK’s largest single carbon emitter.

What is the change?

Tata Steel is expected to announce, with the investment from the UK Government, that a new Electric Arc Furnace for greener steel production at Port Talbot will be up and running in three years.

Instead of creating using coal, heat is created from an electric arc between two electrodes.

The proposed agreement would see the Port Talbot plant change, which requires fewer workers.

How are other countries decarbonising steel?

There are currently 38 green steel projects in progress across the EU, nine of which are in Germany.

No country is yet producing steel using green hydrogen though Germany has one plant using blue hydrogen, meaning the gas is made from fossil fuels.

The UK has one project in the pipeline on the Humber which would use blue hydrogen.

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