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Labour urges Tata to talk over jobs threat

Labour urges Tata to talk over jobs threat
10 Haziran 2024 14:07
2

1 hour ago

By Huw ThomasBBC Wales Business Correspondent • Steve DuffyBBC News

BBC Jonathan Reynolds meets First Minister Vaughan Gething (left) at Port Talbot on MondayBBC

Jonathan Reynolds meets First Minister Vaughan Gething (left) at Port Talbot on Monday

Labour has said there is a “better deal to do” with Tata on the future of its UK operations.

On a visit to Port Talbot, where thousands of jobs are at risk, shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds called on the steel giant to wait until after next month’s general election and hold new talks.

Tata is proposing major restructuring plans at Port Talbot, including investing £1.25bn in greener technology, but thousands of jobs will disappear during the transition period.

The company also said it would not be changing course in Port Talbot, regardless of who wins the general election.

Mr Reynolds pledged more government money than the £500m promised by the Conservatives.

“The environment [for steelmaking] will get better,” he said.

“I am asking the company to engage with us in good faith to take advantage of that better operating environment.

“And I believe there is an outcome that might not be what all of us ideally want, but will work better for everybody.

“Most of all for the people here in Port Talbot.”

One employee said the looming job losses were “really hitting home”.

Jamie Jones, 45, who has worked at the site since he was 17, said worries about redundancies could be felt by those working there, with people’s mental health “under strain”.

Jamie Jones

Jamie Jones is a third generation steelworker at Port Talbot

Mr Jones, a third-generation steelworker in Port Talbot, said there had long been “whispers” about closures, but that the “finality of it now is really hitting home”.

“It’s difficult. You can feel it in the mood there – people’s mental health is under strain,” he said.

“People have got mortgages, families. The fact that place might not be supporting their families next year is just difficult to fathom at the minute.”

Mr Jones also said the closure would have a knock-on effect on other industries in the town.

“For every one Tata job, there’s probably four or five other jobs – the cafes in the town, the newsagents that rely on steelworkers to keep them going. So it’s going to be massive if that place goes,” he said.

He added he hoped whichever party wins the general election would introduce a new industrial strategy that helps save jobs in Port Talbot.

“Hopefully the unions and Tata can get together and save jobs for future generations,” he said.

But in a message to staff, Tata chief executive Rajesh Nair warned “neither the general election nor its outcome has any impact” on the decision to close both blast furnaces by the end of September.

It is a move the company argues is essential in cutting its financial losses and paving the way for greener steelmaking in south Wales.

In October the UK government announced it would give Tata a £500m grant towards the £1.25bn cost of a new electric arc furnace.

The new furnace will melt scrap steel, and end the current carbon-intensive method of producing liquid iron from rock.

Tata Steel has consistently argued its Port Talbot works was losing £1m a day, and that any move towards greener steelmaking would also need to address the financial losses.

Unions had called for a longer transition period, keeping at least one blast furnace operational until the electric arc furnace is up and running.

But Tata has confirmed it will press ahead with the closure of the heavy end in Port Talbot by the end of September, with construction work on the electric furnace scheduled to begin in August 2025.

A transition board has been established to coordinate support and training opportunities for affected workers.

The UK government pledged £80m towards the fund, while Tata Steel has committed £20m.

PA Port Talbot steelworksPA

Tata UK recorded a £364m loss in 2023-24

What do the political parties say?

The Welsh Conservatives said they were committed to ensuring steelmaking took place at Port Talbot and was secure for the future by supporting the transition to electric arc furnaces.

They said the UK government was investing £500m into the new furnaces, as well as creating a transition fund worth £100m to support workers retrain.

“This is a huge contrast to the Labour government in Wales who haven’t spent a single penny helping the transition,” said a spokesperson

They added millions were also being invested into the wider south-west Wales economy with the Celtic Freeport, which was estimated to create thousands of high skilled, well-paid jobs.

Labour’s shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds said the party would pledge more than the £500m offered by the Conservatives to keep steel making in south Wales.

“Our request is that there are no irreversible decisions made before 4 July and that the company negotiates with us, with our Welsh government colleagues, with the trade unions, because there is a better deal that can be done,” he said.

Pressed on Tata Steel’s comments that the general election result will not alter its plans, Mr Reynolds added: “They’ve been dealing with a Conservative government, that I don’t think has understood or cared for the steel industry.

“The overall business operating environment for steel in the UK will improve under a Labour government because, not just because of that £3 billion pounds green steel transition fund that we want to put in place”

Plaid Cymru‘s economy and energy spokesman Luke Fletcher MS said Wales’ economy was being held back by Westminster parties, while Labour was not offering the hopeful vision that Wales desperately needed.

“From thousands of good paying and highly skilled jobs at risk in south Wales, to Westminster’s failure to give Wales the powers we need to be in charge of our own economic destiny – we know this isn’t as good as it gets,” he said.

He said the party’s green new deal set out an economic vision which offered “rewarding, meaningful and fair work” in the emerging green and net-zero sector.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats said Welsh workers could not be “cast aside and treated as collateral damage”.

“If the government doesn’t step in, the local community and wider economy of the region will be devastated,” said a spokesperson.

The party is calling for a long-term vision for the steel industry both in Wales and across the UK and said the Conservatives had “utterly failed to deliver one”.

The spokesperson added: “The Welsh Liberal Democrats have been pushing for a modernisation plan that would save jobs and transition to green steel for years. France, Germany and others are doing this, yet the Conservatives have been asleep at the wheel.”

The Reform Party said there was every possibility that the steelworks would be “the next casualty of the net-zero vanity project pushed by both the Labour and Conservative governments.”

A spokesperson added: “Three blast furnaces have just been completed in India which makes a mockery of the situation Port Talbot is now in.

“Importantly, in such precarious times we need our steel for our defence industry . We will then be dependent on other countries for the supply. It will certainly be inferior in quality compared with Port Talbot.”

The party said both main parties were “obsessed” with net zero, adding that clean air could not be achieved through knee jerk reactions.


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