Workers make sacrifice to save industry – but unions call for real British steel
THE iconic British Steel brand was revived yesterday as the future of one Tata plant was secured — but with a cost to the workforce’s paycheques.
Greybull Capital, which bought Tata’s long products division, has relaunched the business as “British Steel” in a nod to the industry’s heyday under public ownership.
The sale secured the livelihoods of 4,400 workers in Scunthorpe, two mills in Teesside, an engineering workshop in Workington and design consultancy in York.
But it was only made possible after the workforce, who have suffered years of pay freezes, agreed to a 3 per cent cut in wages, to be offset by lower pension contributions.
Martin Foster, convener for union Unite at Scunthorpe, said: “British Steel’s first day of trading marks the beginning of a new chapter not only for Scunthorpe, but UK steelmaking.
“It is a massive vote of confidence in a world-class workforce and the town of Scunthorpe with its proud history of steelmaking.
“It should not be forgotten though that today would not have been possible if it had not been for the sacrifices the workforce has made as part of the firm’s transformation plan.”
Community union general secretary Roy Rickhuss welcomed a “new chapter” in the industry’s history and said it “demonstrates that there is the chance of a brighter future for steelmaking in the UK, with the right vision and investment.”
Steelworkers’ unions and Labour MPs are still demanding government intervention, including action to reduce energy bills and business rates, and to prevent unfair dumping of imported steel.
They also want companies which are awarded public contracts to be pressed to use British steel.
But the workforce and their unions celebrated yesterday, with a British Steel flag raised for the first time since 1999 when the company, which had already been privatised by Thatcher a decade earlier, was merged with a Dutch company to form Corus.
Steel veteran Chris Allison, who has worked at the plant for over 40 years, and apprentice Ben Manoury took part in a ceremony to launch the new company.
Explaining the decision to call the company British Steel, commercial director Peter Hogg said: “Our heritage is important to us.
“For decades our skilled workforce has dedicated itself to producing the highest quality steel that has been used in landmark buildings and infrastructure projects around the world.”
Even Tory Business Secretary Sajid Javid paid a tribute to the “long and proud history” of the formerly nationalised British steel brand.
He hailed the development as a “vote of confidence in the UK steel industry as a whole.”
The future of Tata’s other plants across Britain, including the giant site at Port Talbot in south Wales, and more than 10,000 jobs still hangs in the balance.
And Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “Tata Steel owes it to its workforce to continue to be a responsible seller by selling its remaining assets, as one entity, to a buyer which is committed to steelmaking in the long-term.
“The government needs to continue to play its part too. The UK’s steelworkers make some of the best steel in world, but can only forge a bright future if the government builds on its promises and develops an industrial strategy with a steel heart that puts UK steel first.”