Tata cancels early closure of Port Talbot furnaces after Unite calls off strike

The owner of the Port Talbot steelworks, Tata Steel, has cancelled plans to begin shutting down both of the plant’s blast furnaces this week after Unite called off a strike, but cutbacks expected to cost 2,800 jobs will still go ahead later this year.

Members of the union were scheduled to begin industrial action on 8 July, days after Indian-owned Tata began a wind-down process that will ultimately end more than 70 years of making steel from scratch at the plant.

On Monday, however, Unite confirmed it had cancelled its strike plans after Rajesh Nair, the UK boss of Tata Steel, wrote to unions over the weekend to offer a further round of discussions about future investments at the south Wales site.

Unite said Tata had confirmed that “it was now prepared to enter into negotiations about future investment for its operations and not just redundancies”.

The union’s general secretary, Sharon Graham, said: “This is a significant development in the battle to protect jobs and the long-term future of steelmaking in south Wales. Investment from Labour secured by Unite will be key to the future of the site.

“This breakthrough would not have come about without the courage of our members at Port Talbot who were prepared to stand up and fight for their jobs. Workers were simply not prepared to stand idly by while steelmaking ended and their communities were laid to waste.

“It is essential that these talks progress swiftly and in good faith with the focus on fresh investment and ensuring the long-term continuation of steelmaking in south Wales.”

Tata Steel had originally planned to begin shutting down Port Talbot’s blast furnace No 5 this week, with No 4 slated for closure in September.

It brought forward the second half of the plan to this week in response to Unite calling the strike, saying it could not operate the site safely without enough workers.

On Monday, however, Tata Steel said it had received written confirmation that industrial action would not go ahead.

A spokesperson said: “As a result, and given we can now be confident of ensuring appropriate resourcing of activities to operate safely, we will halt preparations for the early cessation of operations on blast furnace 4 and the wider heavy end in Port Talbot, planned for this week. We welcome the fact that we have avoided having to progress down this path.

“The resumption of discussions with the UK Steel Committee [which represents the Community, Unite and the GMB unions] will progress from the position reached in the last meeting of 22 May and will focus on the future investments and aspirations for the business, and not on a renegotiation of our existing plan for the heavy-end closure or the enhanced employment support terms.

“The wind-down process for blast furnace 5 has now begun to plan and we expect to produce the final iron at the end of this week.”

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Community, which represents more steelworkers than Unite and has often disagreed with its sister union over how to protect Port Talbot workers, welcomed the decision.

“Tata confirmed that if the strike was called off they are ready to resume discussions on a potential [memorandum of understanding], through the multi-union steel committee, which is chaired by Community,” said Alun Davies, a national officer for the organisation.

“The truth is Tata never walked away from those discussions, and at our last meeting on 22 May all unions agreed to conclude the negotiations and put the outcome to our members. Community will welcome resuming those discussions, but we regret that zero progress has been made since 22 May.

“With thousands of jobs at stake, we welcome Unite’s decision to withdraw their strike action and get back around the table with their sister steel unions.”

The new electric furnace is not due to come onstream until 2027 and unions want steelmaking to continue until then.


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