Tata Steel rejects Labour plea over Port Talbot green transition

11 June 2024, 10:20 | Updated: 11 June 2024, 13:22

Tata Steel says it will press ahead with plans to return to profitability at its Port Talbot steelworks, no matter who forms the next government.

The India-based firm was responding to media reports Labour was hoping to coax a U-turn at the UK's biggest steelworks, should it win the day on 4 July.

Tata confirmed in April almost 2,800 roles would go under a transition from so-called virgin steel to greener steel.

It would see both labour intensive blast furnaces switched off by September and soon replaced with cleaner electric arc technology under a £1.25bn investment.

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It contains a £500m package of support from the government to support the transition and wider local community which currently depends on the sprawling South Wales site for employment.

Tata said the long-term future of steelmaking at Port Talbot would be placed at "significant risk" should the grant be withdrawn.

As unions continue to line up plans for industrial action, the company said: "We wish to inform that (Tata Steel) confirms that it will continue with the announced closure of the heavy end assets and restructuring programme at Port Talbot in the coming months.

"We urge and request the current and the incoming government post-elections, to adhere to and safeguard the agreed terms of the £500m package of support for the Electric Arc Furnace (EAF) project announced in September 2023.

"This project has been developed to ensure production of low-emission high-quality steel in Port Talbot, preserving primary steelmaking in Britain and creating the potential for a future green manufacturing cluster in South Wales.

"The current heavy end assets of Port Talbot are nearing their end of life, are operationally unstable and are resulting in unsustainable financial losses.

"The coke ovens, a critical facility for primary steelmaking, had to be closed in March 2024, as operations became infeasible and unsafe.

"Therefore, the company is compelled to continue with its plans to decommission Blast Furnace #5 at the end of June, followed by decommissioning of Blast Furnace #4 by the end of September."

Tata has put its financial losses at £1m a day.

On Monday, senior Labour figures including shadow Welsh secretary Jo Stevens urged Tata to wait for a possible Labour government next month so fresh talks can take place.

On a visit to the Port Talbot plant, Ms Stevens called on the company to delay shutting off all the blast furnaces and urged Tata to adopt a union plan for one furnace to be left on while a transition to green steel production takes place.

"What we have said to Tata all along is please don't make any irreversible decisions before the general election," she said.

"We want them to look at the union plan again, we want to talk to them. They know that we have our green steel fund ready to go. That will be there to support Welsh steel workers and steel workers across the United Kingdom to ensure a smooth transition to decarbonised steel."

Alasdair McDiarmid, assistant general secretary at the Community union, said: "It would be wrong for Tata to make irreversible decisions before the election.

"Again, we urge the company to engage with Labour and the unions to consider alternatives to protect jobs."

Tata's relations with the Community, Unite and GMB unions are strained as each has secured support for industrial action that could lead to strikes in future.

Unite members are due to begin an overtime ban and "work to rule" in a week's time.