Mass cull of steel jobs

by Caroline Colebrook

UNIONS representing steel workers reacted angrily last Monday to the announcement by Tata Steel that it intends to cut a further 1,050 jobs — 750 at Port Talbot in South Wales and 200 in Trostre, Corby. Almost 5,000 job losses have now been announced in the steel industry since last summer.

Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of the steelworkers union Community, said: “Our immediate thoughts are with all the steelworkers and their families who may be affected by today’s announcement.

“We will be doing all we can in the coming weeks to support our members at this difficult time. We will be vigorously challenging the company’s proposals to ensure they do not further weaken the integrity or capacity of our steel plants.

“Today’s announcement is no reflection of the skills and commitment of the Tata Steel workforce, which has been breaking production records over the past year.

“Rather, it is yet another chapter of the UK’s ongoing steel crisis and the lack of a proper Government response.

“This industry needs meaningful action from the UK Government, which up to now has been characterised by fast talking but slow delivery, despite persistent warnings from Community that delays in implementing support for steel would have an impact on jobs.”

The root problem is that more steel is being manufactured globally than the market can absorb. Steel is used in the manufacture of thousands of different products, but the big demands for it come from car and ship building.

There are other needs around the globe for buses and trains and household goods in developing countries where it is still common for people to have to walk miles on foot to reach schools, shops, clinics and so on.

But these countries and their people do not have the money to command the world markets and so as far as global capitalism is concerned they are their needs are invisible.

Two days after the devastating announcement from Tata Steel, Sheffield Forgemasters said that it was about to shed 100 steel jobs as part of a survival package.

The news was met by renewed calls from the giant union Unite for the Government to turn guidance on infrastructure procurement into orders and for the steel in Britain industry to be given a level playing field with its competitors.

Unite called for cast iron guarantees that anything built for Britain should use British steel. The union urged minsters to give assurances that there would not be a repeat of the phase one tendering process for Hinkley Point C, where British firms such as Sheffield Forgemasters, which specialises in steel castings for the energy and civil nuclear industry, were reportedly excluded from the process.

Harish Patel, the Unite national officer for steel, said: “World class companies like Sheffield Forgemasters need urgent support and a level playing field with their international competitors if they are to survive.

“It wasn’t that long ago that Government ministers pulled the plug on a loan that would have allowed Sheffield Forgemasters to invest in new equipment making it more productive.”

Steve Morris, GMB regional organiser, responded to the news from Sheffield Forgemasters, saying: “GMB is incensed that the lack of action by the Government and the lack of a coherent policy for manufacturing is once again costing jobs in South Yorkshire.”

Meanwhile steelworkers who have recently lost their jobs from cuts already announced late last year have been facing brutal treatment at their local job centres and are being threatened with benefit sanctions.

Labour’s Anna Turley claimed that the workers, who have decades of experience, have not been given a 13-week grace period that they were promised to apply for jobs needing similar skills.

Instead they have been told to apply for work in shops and bars just two weeks into their claims. Ms Turley said it was the latest in a string of “widespread problems with JobCentre Plus”.

“Many of these workers have never been out of work and the experience of being on the dole for many of them, like so many of my constituency, is horrendous,” she said.

“Sanctions should not be used as a mechanism to force claimants to apply for jobs that are not relevant in this instance. They should be a last resort.”

Business Minister Anna Soubry hit back, saying that there were 51 apprentices at the SSI steelworks who had lost their jobs but that new places were found for “every single one of those 51 apprentices, I reckon within a week”.

But the Redcar MP insisted that she met one apprentice with nearly three years’ experience who “was told he should get a job in a bar”.