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STEELWORKERS vowed to fight for their jobs and industry today after the British government announced a £500 million investment package in Tata Steel that could cost 3,000 jobs at the company’s Port Talbot steelworks.
Trade union leaders reacted with anger at the joint deal between the Westminster government and the Indian steel giant, claiming the replacement of the south Wales steelworks’ two blast furnaces with one electric arc furnace could potentially cost thousands of jobs in the process.
The government and company claim the proposal lays the decarbonisation pathway towards globally competitive and sustainable steelmaking in Port Talbot.
But Unite the union pledged to mount a campaign to protect steel jobs and vowed to fight proposed Tata job losses “tooth and nail” with its workers’ plan for steel in communities across Britain.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “These plans are disgraceful, short-sighted and lack ambition.
“Steel is a foundation industry and the opportunity is being missed to make the UK a world leader in steel production.”
The union said its grassroots campaign will focus on engaging with communities that depend on steel to demand that politicians reverse the decline in the industry and turn Britain into a world leader.
The Community union vowed to do whatever it takes to protect steelworkers from what it called a “bad deal.”
Community’s general secretary Roy Rickhuss slammed the deal saying his union had been given assurances that “any decisions on the application of low-carbon steelmaking technology would be made in full partnership with us.
“It now seems that Tata and the government are intent on building a future based on an electric arc furnace-only steel-making model.”
Mr Rickhuss said an electric arc furnace-only approach was short-sighted and would risk the country’s economic security by making British steel-making reliant on imports of virgin steel and steel in imported goods.
Community also claimed that switching to an electric arc furnace would mean the likely closure of the Trostre tinplate works in Llanelli at a cost of more than 700 jobs.
Mr Rickhuss added: “Community will do whatever it takes to protect the interests of our members.”
TUC general secretary Paul Nowak called on the government and Tata Steel to pause the process and get around the table with the unions.
“It beggars belief that they have been locked out of talks and is the opposite of a just transition to a green economy,” Mr Nowak said.
The TUC leader demanded a proper long-term plan “not 1980s-style deindustrialisation.
“Other countries — like America and Germany — are working in partnership with unions and employers to protect their manufacturing heartlands. We should be doing the same,” Mr Nowak said.
Aberavon Labour MP Stephen Kinnock said: “The deliberate exclusion of the steel unions from this whole process is deeply disappointing.
“Our European competitors are investing in a range of green steel-making capabilities — such as hydrogen, direct reduced iron and carbon capture — thus giving them the versatility that is needed to meet customer demand.”
GMB general secretary Gary Smith said: “The jobs of thousands of steelworkers are now at risk. The cost to local people and the wider Port Talbot community will be immense.
“Once again, we have the spectacle of leaders talking up the fantasy land of a ‘just transition’ while the bitter reality for workers is them getting the sack.”
Labour’s shadow business and trade secretary Jonathan Reynolds said: “Only the Tories could spend £500m of taxpayers’ money to make thousands of British workers redundant.
“Labour has pledged £3 billion for investment alongside industry to decarbonise steel in partnership with workers and industry investing in a range of technologies to ensure we have the clean steel we need to rebuild Britain.”
The Welsh government pledged to work closely with the trade unions and the company to minimise job losses.
Plaid Cymru’s economic spokesman Luke Fletcher said: “Our solidarity is with the workers at this time and we stand ready to support those who need it.
“Once again, we see how so-called transitions are anything but fair or just for working people.”
Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch said: “We have a transition plan in place that’s funded up to about £100 million to make sure that people have skills to retrain and move on to other things if they don’t want to stay in the steel industry.”
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