10 May 2024

Welsh FM urges Tata Steel to wait for Labour government before cutting jobs

10 May 2024

The First Minister of Wales has pleaded for Tata Steel to wait for a Labour government before shutting off its blast furnaces and making thousands of job cuts.

Following seven months of discussions with unions, Tata revealed last month it is proceeding with plans to shut down two blast furnaces and invest £1.25 billion in an electric arc furnace on its Port Talbot site.

The move will see thousands of jobs lost, with the new furnace needing fewer workers to maintain.

On a visit to the company in India, Vaughan Gething, the Welsh Government leader, called for it to wait for more investment from a potential incoming Labour UK government and keep one blast furnace running in the meantime.

However, Mr Gething’s trip has drawn criticism from the Conservatives, who said he should “stop globetrotting” and put money towards fixing the problem.

Speaking to the PA news agency from Mumbai on Friday, Mr Gething said: “I made clear the case that the Welsh Government’s prime position is we don’t want to see the final blast furnace turned off with the significant numbers of job losses that will entail.

“I spoke to (Labour leader) Keir Starmer before I came out, and the person who is the likely next prime minister made clear that he sees a manifesto offer that we’ll need more steel, not less.

“Just as I do, he does not want there to be an irreversible choice made just before a general election that is only months away.”

The First Minister added there could be “lots of capital investment available for the future of steel”, reiterating Sir Keir’s commitment for a £3 billion fund for the steel industry.

Tata’s plans would see the two blast furnaces closed by the end of June and September respectively, with 2,800 jobs lost – the majority at its site in Port Talbot.

Up to 10,000 people are expected to be impacted indirectly.

The company has previously rejected a plan put forward by unions to keep one furnace running while the electric one is built, saying this would have incurred at least £1.6 billion of additional costs.

Mr Gething also said he want Tata to show it is “here to stay in some significant form”.

The First Minister said: “If they’re going to go ahead with their £1.25 billion investment, then we need to see them making practical progress in the near future.

“That could, for example, be about starting the planning process, because at the moment there are some people that don’t trust the proposal to actually deliver an electric arc the size and scale that has been talked about.”

Mr Gething insisted it is “premature” to talk about industrial action, and the company and workers should return to negotiations.

Two unions – Community and Unite – have already balloted their members on potential strike action at the plant in Port Talbot, with overwhelming support in favour.

He said: “I want the company and trade unions back in the same room negotiating to make progress on this. I think it’s premature to talk about action actually taking place.

“I respect the results of the ballot and I pointed out the strength of the Community ballot today, get back in the room and make progress on the future.”

Asked why he waited to meet the company until after the consultation process with the unions was over, Mr Gething said: “We needed to understand where trade unions and the company had go to.

“If I’d flown out when they were still deep into talks, cutting across what was happening, I think that’s entirely the wrong thing to do.”

Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies criticised Mr Gething’s trip.

He said: “While the UK Government has put over half a billion pounds on the table to save steel jobs in Port Talbot, the only cash the Labour Welsh Government has spent is on this trip to India.

“Vaughan Gething should stop globetrotting to divert from his domestic problems and measure his support for our steelworkers in pounds and pence.”

TV Narendran, chief executive of Tata Steel, said: “Today we had a productive discussion with the new First Minister of Wales about progressing our plans to secure the future of steelmaking in South Wales.

“Tata Steel’s position remains that we are committed to the green transition of the UK steel industry, and our state-of-the-art electric arc furnace in Port Talbot will help safeguard steel sovereignty in Britain, preserve 5,000 jobs, support our customers, and reduce CO2 emissions by five million tonnes each year.

“We understand the difficulties that our people are facing and are doing our utmost to provide holistic support, including on mental health. We are offering the most generous financial support package ever offered to outgoing employees.

Now is the time to act. We cannot be bystanders in our own nation's future

“Additionally, we are committed to providing support with job searches, training and upskilling activities, and we have committed £20 million to the transition board.

“Tata Steel has always been a responsible, long-term and patient investor in its UK business, and we are committing significant additional capital to ensure that we can create an operationally, financially and environmentally sustainable business for the future.”

Plaid Cymru spokesman for economy, Luke Fletcher MS said: “I truly hope the First Minister’s visit yields a positive result for workers in Tata Steel.

“However, Tata’s attitude towards workers has been nothing short of appalling. A responsible company doesn’t act like this.

“Plaid Cymru have long called for nationalisation to be seriously considered by the UK Government and to be pushed for by the Welsh Government.

“Now is the time to act. We cannot be bystanders in our own nation’s future.”

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