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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Stealing jobs?

by New Worker correspondent

COMMUNITY, the union representing steelworkers, has warned that owners of the South Wales steel plant at Port Talbot will have a fight on their hands if proposals to end blast furnace steel production at the South Wales site at Port Talbot are implemented.

The plant’s Indian-owned company Tata is considering closing its two blast furnaces at the Port Talbot plant and replacing them with electric arc furnaces, thus ending primary steel making in South Wales.

Community’s spokesperson said: “If this report is accurate then this plan has been developed without any consultation with the workforce, which is an absolute disgrace. We are seeking urgent clarification from Tata – but rest assured, the unions will not accept the end of blast furnace steel production at Port Talbot, which would leave the UK unable to make a range of specialist steels.” It added that: “Steel production accounts for half the jobs at Port Talbot and this plan would devastate the town and the community. If necessary, we will be prepared to fight to protect our members’ livelihoods and the future of our industry.”

Port Talbot is one of only two surviving plants in Britain able to convert iron ore and coal into molten iron and steel.

Tata is hoping to get support from the government’s Project Birch fund, which was set up to help huge strategically important companies recover from the coronavirus crisis. Amongst the tough conditions are those demanding that it is used to meet net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and that jobs are not lost.

Not unreasonably, Community fears the switch will cause unemployment at the struggling steelworks. Electric arc furnaces, which take around two years to build, require fewer workers and produce far lower carbon emissions.

Ross Murdoch, a national officer for the other steel union, GMB, chipped in to say: “GMB has joined the call on Ministers to provide stimulus to safeguard the industry and drive the next phase of recovery and growth – but any support must secure jobs of our members in the steel industry.”

Local Member of the Welsh parliament, David Rees, said: “Whilst the introduction of electric arc furnaces will allow the continuation of a form of steel making at the site any such decision would inevitably result in major job losses as the existing process of steel making requires many other processes that would end once the blast furnaces are no longer operating.”

He insisted that: “Any decision to structurally change the steel making process at Port Talbot must be agreed with the trade unions and the workforce.

“It is now imperative that Tata meet with the trade unions and local elected representatives to provide validity to any such rumours and clarity as to their future plans.”