Tata set to shut down steel plant early because of Unite strike


Steel giant Tata is planning to stop work at its steel plant in Port Talbot within 10 days, earlier than scheduled, because of a strike by the Unite union, workers have been told.

Tata is switching to a more environmentally-friendly way of producing steel, which needs fewer workers.

After seven months of talks with unions, Tata said in April it would push ahead with a £1.25bn investment in an electric arc furnace on the Port Talbot site and would close the two blast furnaces by the end of June and end of September respectively.

Workers from Tata’s Port Talbot steelworks gather in Westminster (Lucy North/PA) (PA Wire)
Workers from Tata’s Port Talbot steelworks gather in Westminster (Lucy North/PA) (PA Wire)

But workers at the south Wales site have been told that because of the strike, from 8 July, Tata can no longer be assured of sufficient resources being available to ensure safe and stable operations, so will close them at the same time.

A message to employees said: “Therefore, we are left with no alternative but to take preparatory steps to cease operations on both blast furnaces and safely isolate them no later than 7 July.”

An estimated 2,800 jobs will be lost, most at Port Talbot.

Tata says the switch to greener production will safeguarde the industry and preserve 5,000 jobs. It said it needed to modernise after losing £1.7m a day in the past quarter.

The company has launched legal action against the union’s vote.

A Tata Steel spokesperson said: “Following the announcement by Unite union to unilaterally call strike action from 8 July, Tata Steel is unfortunately forced to commence legal action to challenge the validity of Unite’s ballot.

“In the coming days, if we cannot be certain that we are able to continue to safely operate our assets in a stable fashion through the period of strike action, we will not have any choice but to pause or stop heavy-end operations (including both blast furnaces) on the Port Talbot site.

“That is not a decision we would take lightly, and we recognise that it would prove extremely costly and disruptive throughout the supply chain, but the safety of people on or around our sites will always take priority over everything else.

“The company again calls for Unite to withdraw its industrial action and join Community and GMB unions in giving consideration to the company’s proposed memorandum of understanding, which puts forward a wide-ranging proposal including generous employee support packages, training and skills development.”

They added: “We understand the impact of our restructuring will have on many employees and contractors, but we remain committed to a just transition and — pending a government-backed grant funding agreement — to the £1.25bn investment in low-CO2 steelmaking, which will ensure Tata Steel has a long and sustainable future in the UK.”

Additional reporting by PA