Tata Steel announces closure of Port Talbot coke ovens as 200 workers set to be affected

  • ITV Wales' Hamish Auskerry brings us the latest.

Tata Steel has announced the coke ovens at Port Talbot steelworks will close on Wednesday, affecting around 200 jobs.

The steelmaking giant has already announced plans to cut around 3,000 jobs from the site in an effort to decarbonise the plant.

The boss of Tata Steel has previously said he is "100% committed to building an electric arc" at the Port Talbot.

Tata says it will cease operations at its Port Talbot-based Morfa coke ovens from Wednesday, 20 March.

This is due to what it describes as "significantly deteriorating operational stability" but one union has described the closure as a "massive blow".

The ovens are used to heat coal to create a hard residue called coke which is then used to fuel blast furnaces.

It is understood that there will be no immediate redundancies and Tata is expecting to redeploy staff elsewhere in the business.

Once the ovens are shut, Tata will have to buy in all the coke it needs for the steelmaking process.

Steel unions said they had been aware of concerns about the condition of the coke ovens for some time, and previously said they would not oppose an early closure on safety grounds.

Tata Steel CEO Rajesh Nair said: "We regret to announce that we have been forced to make the decision to cease operations at Morfa Coke Ovens from Wednesday 20 March as a result of significantly deteriorating operational stability.

"In our recent discussions with our trades union colleagues, the need to cease operations at the Morfa coke ovens and one of the two blast furnaces this summer is understood.

"The performance of the coke ovens has been deteriorating over many months, despite some herculean efforts by the teams there. The condition of the ovens has now worsened to a level making continued operation untenable.

"We will now begin the process of safely closing and purging the coke ovens, and ceasing operations at the adjoining By-Products plant.

"We will work hard over the coming weeks to understand the aspirations of the current coke ovens workforce in alignment with our ongoing wider consultation programme.

"I’d like to give my sincere thanks and appreciation to all those who have worked at the Morfa coke ovens since its commissioning in 1981 – I have always been struck by the spirit and camaraderie of the workforce there who have always given everything to the plant, often in very difficult circumstances.

"Your efforts have been critical to the survival of the Port Talbot works, and you should always feel very proud for having been part of that team.

"We have been clear in our current restructuring proposals that many of our heavy-end assets in Port Talbot are at their end-of-life capability.

"As part of our efforts to stem our current losses, and given the condition of the assets, we propose to close the heavy end iron and steelmaking assets at Port Talbot within this calendar year in a phased manner.

"Tata Steel is investing £1.25billion investment in electric arc furnace-based capacity which will secure steel making in Port Talbot for the long term —and facilitate a transition to low-CO2 steelmaking. Consultation on these aspects is currently ongoing."

Tata Steel boss Thachat Viswanath Narendran previously told ITV Wales he "fully empathises" with those impacted by the company's decision to shut down its blast furnaces at the site.

He said he was committed to building an electric arc so the business is "not always at the edge of a cliff".

Alun Davies, national officer at Community union, said: "The early closure of the coke ovens is a massive blow but we knew they have been deteriorating and our number one concern is the safety of our members.

"Tata know the unions will not accept any compulsory redundancies and we are working to conclude negotiations on an enhanced redundancy and retention package.

"Regretfully the coke ovens were always going to close during the transition period, but once the national consultations conclude we will ballot for industrial action should Tata confirm their intention to close blast furnace number 4.”

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