Steelworkers in Port Talbot vote for historic strike over planned Tata job cuts

Tata plans to shut down both blast furnaces at Port Talbot and replace them with an electric arc furnace, which is set to be greener but less labour-intensive. Credit: Tata Steel UK

Words by ITV Wales journalist Sofia Lewis

Steelworkers have voted to strike in protest of planned job losses at Tata's site in Port Talbot.

Unite said around 1,500 of its members based in Port Talbot and Llanwern in south Wales have "decisively" backed industrial action.

It comes as the other two unions representing steelworkers – Community and GMB – are in the process of balloting their members over whether to take industrial action, with those results expected in the coming weeks.

A Tata Steel spokesperson said they were "disappointed" by the outcome and have written to Unite with concerns about "irregularities in the ballot process they have undertaken," a claim which Unite has denied.

Steelworkers from the Unite Union took their fight against steel job cuts to Westminster earlier this year. Credit: PA

The steel unions are fighting Tata’s plans to shut down both blast furnaces at its Port Talbot site and replace them with an electric arc furnace.

Bosses say this is the greener option, but it would be less labour-intensive and require fewer workers.

Tata Steel argue that their decision to make redundancies is vital to keeping the business afloat and transforming their operations to a greener way of working.

But workers have told ITV Wales they are worried about how they will "put food on the table" and "keep a roof" over their heads, with almost 3,000 jobs under threat across Tata's UK sites.

Unite said it will be the first time in more than 40 years that Port Talbot steelworkers go on strike.

It comes as Tata reportedly wrote to staff threatening to reduce its "favourable redundancy package" if steelworkers walk out.

Unite claim Tata has other choices after the union secured a commitment from Labour that it would invest £3billion in UK steel if it won this year's expected General Election, compared with the £500million pledged by the current Conservative UK Government.

Unions have said they are "prepared to fight" Tata Steel's plans for a greener future. Credit: PA Images

The Community union, which says it represents "the vast majority of workers impacted by Tata’s decarbonisation plans," launched its own ballot for industrial action at Tata Steel UK on Thursday, 11 April, which will run for a month.

Meanwhile, the GMB union is in the process of balloting its members at the Port Talbot and Llanwern sites, with its ballot set to close on 25 April.

A Tata Steel spokesperson said that following its decarbonisation announcement earlier this year, the company started a formal consultation process with the unions which continues in "an open, collaborative and constructive fashion".

They continued: “On 22 March, we put forward a significantly enhanced, comprehensive package of support for employees impacted by the proposed transformation.

"We are naturally disappointed that while consultation continues, Unite union members at Port Talbot and Llanwern have indicated that they would be prepared to take industrial action up to and including strike action if an agreement cannot be reached on a way forward for the business and its employees."

They added: "We have written to Unite union twice during the ballot process to notify them of significant irregularities in the ballot process they have undertaken."In response, a spokesperson for Unite said: "There were no irregularities with the ballot, as a union we undertake hundreds of them every year. It’s done through a third party organisation, Civica, and we have some of the most stringent rules on balloting for industrial action in Europe."

In a statement, the Tata spokesperson continued: "While the £1.25billion commitment with the UK Government will ensure a long-term viable future for low-CO2 steelmaking in the UK, our current business is unsustainable, reporting losses of more than £1million a day."

Tata closed its coke ovens in Port Talbot in March due to what it described as "significantly deteriorating operational stability." Credit: Tata Steel UK

The spokesperson said this investment is "critical," saying much of the existing iron and steelmaking operation in Port Talbot is "at the end of its life, is unreliable and inefficient".

It was for this reason that Tata say it ceased its coke-making operations on 20 March.They added: "By restructuring our UK operations we will be 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."

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