Tata Steel to press on with Port Talbot job cuts despite Labour call for talks

Tata steelworks in Port Talbot
Tata Steel says it will continue with the closure of its blast furnaces in Port Talbot. Credit: PA

Tata Steel has said it will continue with shutting off its blast furnaces in the coming months, costing thousands of jobs, despite the Labour Party urging it to delay the decision until after the General Election.

The steelmaking giant said it is “apprehensive” reading media reports that its restructuring plans “may be put in peril due to policy differences expressed by the Conservative and Labour Parties, during the ongoing election period”.

“We wish to inform that (Tata Steel) confirms that it will continue with the announced closure of the heavy end assets and restructuring programme at Port Talbot in the coming months,” it said in a statement.

Tata is moving to a greener form of production, using an electric arc furnace – which needs fewer workers, leaving jobs at risk. The plan involves investing £1.25billion in greener technology.

"Over the last three years (Tata Steel has) worked hard to develop a sustainable future for Tata Steel UK and the Port Talbot Plant," the statement said.

The company urged political parties "to adhere to and safeguard the agreed terms" of its plan to restructure its UK operations.

"This project has been developed to ensure production of low-emission high-quality steel in Port Talbot, preserving primary steelmaking in Britain and creating the potential for a future green manufacturing cluster in South Wales," it said.

The company also called for safeguards for a £500million grant which the UK Government has agreed to pay towards the electric arc furnace project.

“Further political uncertainty on the timing and form of the grant will place the (electric arc furnace) project and the long-term future of steelmaking at Port Talbot at significant risk,” it said.

Tata has insisted the reduction in roles, which was first announced in January, is necessary to stop the company from making £1 million a day in losses.

The company also insisted it is not safe or financially practicable to build an electric arc furnace while old blast furnaces are still operational.

On Monday, senior Labour figures including First Minister Vaughan Gething and shadow Welsh secretary Jo Stevens urged Tata to wait for a possible Labour UK Government next month so fresh talks can take place.

Mr Gething said: "We're interested in winning an argument for the future, the future of this workforce, but more than that, the future of our industrial base, and future in Wales and Britain.

"That's why we want steel production to remain here in Wales in significant numbers, and to manage the transition to green, so it'll be good for the economy, good for the company, and good for local workers."

Ms Stevens had urged Tata to adopt a union plan for one furnace to be left on while a transition to green steel production takes place.

“What we have said to Tata all along is please don’t make any irreversible decisions before the General Election,” she said.

“And that means not switching off the blast furnace, which is due to happen at the end of this month.

“We want them to look at the union plan again, we want to talk to them. They know that we have our green steel fund ready to go.

"That will be there to support Welsh steel workers and steel workers across the United Kingdom to ensure a smooth transition to decarbonised steel.”

Alasdair McDiarmid, assistant general secretary at the Community union, said: “It would be wrong for Tata to make irreversible decisions before such a consequential election.

“Again, we urge the company to engage with Labour and the unions to consider alternatives to protect jobs.”

In April, Tata Steel confirmed it would close its blast furnaces in Port Talbot after rejecting a last-minute union plea to change its plans.

A Welsh Conservative spokesperson said: "We are committed to ensuring steelmaking stays at Port Talbot.

"The UK Government took bold action to invest £500million to support Tata to transition to electric arc furnaces, with an extra £80million to help workers to retrain.

"Labour has no plan on how to keep steelmaking in Wales. In fact, they've been doing the opposite. Opting to go for cheap, low quality, imported coal, instead of supporting Welsh jobs at the Ffos-y-Fran mine which supplied ideal coal to Tata.

"We are investing millions into the south-west Wales economy to boost high skilled jobs with the Celtic Freeport and the Swansea Bay City Deal, which helps businesses to grow and create jobs."

Luke Fletcher MS, Plaid Cymru’s economy and energy spokesperson, said: "Tata has made clear that whatever happens in the General Election it is determined to continue with the closure of the furnace at Port Talbot.

"At this point, if we are serious about saving the jobs at Port Talbot and secure the blast furnaces, there is now only one option. Nationalisation.

"Labour have committed to £3billion for steel. A portion of that will be allocated for Port Talbot. If the money is there to give to Tata, then it’s there for us to take control of the future of our steel industry here in Wales.

"If the polls are to be believed, it’s now on Labour to put its money where its mouth is and save our steel."

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