Tata Steel’s Port Talbot steelworks in south Wales, Sept. 15, 2023.
Tata Steel’s Port Talbot steelworks in south Wales, Sept. 15, 2023. (Photo | AP)

Tata protests: Steelworkers at UK’s largest production plant vote to strike over job losses

Tata said after the vote that its plan remains in place.

LONDON: Steelworkers at Britain’s largest steel production plant voted to strike for the first time in around 40 years to protest the planned loss of 2,800 jobs by Indian owner Tata Steel, union officials said Thursday.

The Unite trade union said 1,500 of its members at the south Wales plant and the nearby smaller Newport Llanwern processing plant backed the strike action.

In January, Tata said it would close both blast furnaces at Port Talbot as part of plans to make its unprofitable U.K. operation leaner and greener, replacing them with more environmentally friendly electric arc furnaces.

Unite said Tata has other choices after the union secured a commitment from the main Labour Party opposition that it will invest 3 billion pounds ($3.8 billion) in U.K. steel, compared with the 500 million pounds pledged by the current Conservative government. That potentially matters as Labour is way ahead of the Conservatives in opinion polls ahead of a general election that is expected to take place by the fall.

“In the U.K., Tata’s plans and those of the government reflect the short-term thinking of a clapped-out disinterested government marking time to a general election,” said Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham.

She said the vote in favor of striking happened despite threats from Tata that enhanced redundancy packages would be withdrawn if workers went on strike.

Tata has said that its plans to switch from coal-fired blast furnaces to an electric arc furnace, which produces steel from scrap metal, needs fewer workers and that 2,500 jobs will go by the middle of next year, with a further 300 at longer-term risk. Both blast furnaces are due to be shut this year, with the new electric furnace installed by 2027.

Tata said after the vote that its plan remains in place.

“Our ambition remains to move forward at pace with a just transition, and to become the center of a future green sustainable industrial ecosystem in the U.K.,” a spokesperson for the company said.

The news of the closure of the blast furnaces is a major blow to Port Talbot, a town of about 35,000 people whose economy has been built on the steel industry since the early 1900s. Fewer than 1,000 people are expected to be employed at the plant if the restructuring takes place.

At its height in the 1960s, the Port Talbot steelworks employed around 20,000 people, before cheaper offerings from China and other countries hit production. More than 300,000 people worked in Britain’s steel industry in 1971; by 2021 it was about 26,000.

The steel industry now accounts for 0.1% of the British economy and 2.4% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to research by the House of Commons Library.

The New Indian Express