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Port Talbot steel town braces for impact of Tata closure

by SuperiorInvest

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The steel town of Port Talbot is bracing for the same “devastating” decline suffered by a number of once-prosperous South Wales Valley communities, unions have warned, after Tata said on Friday that up to 2,800 jobs would be axed. of work at its main site in the United Kingdom.

The Indian company’s decision to close the two remaining blast furnaces at the plant came after rejecting union proposals for a more gradual transition to decarbonization. But when news of the closure leaked this week, what was left of workers’ hopes faded.

“People are calling us in tears, trying to figure out what they are going to do themselves if the worst happens,” said Abbey Gutteridge, regional organizer for Community, which had put forward alternative transition plans alongside the GMB union.

He said Port Talbot, whose skyline is dominated by the steam and metal of Britain’s largest steelworks, now faces the same fate as Ebbw Vale. The struggling nearby town lost its Corus factory 23 years ago, and Tata Steel acquired Corus in 2007.

“Port Talbot is known as a steel town, it’s a steel town,” added Gutteridge, whose family has been in steelmaking for three generations. “This is where people are passionate about this. “You can’t throw a stone without hurting someone who works in the steel mill.”

Peter Hughes at the entrance to the Tata Steel site in Port Talbot
Peter Hughes at the entrance to the Tata Steel site in Port Talbot. He said the decision to close would have a “devastating effect” locally and on wider communities. © Gareth Iwan Jones/FT

Peter Hughes, Welsh secretary of the Unite union, agreed that the towns of Ebbw Vale, Llanwern and Bryngwyn (all of which lost steelworks at the turn of the century) had laid the foundations for what would happen next.

“It’s been like death from thousands of cuts in the last 20 years,” he said, standing outside the Tata site on Friday, as passing drivers honked their horns in solidarity with the workers.

“If you look at Ebbw Vale, it was like a ghost town for 10 or 15 years, Bryngwyn not much better. “Llanwern is just a shadow of what it used to be.”

Tata’s decision would have a similar “devastating effect”, not only on Port Talbot but also on “the wider communities in the valleys”, he added.

Tata Steel workers at blast furnace number 4
Tata Steel plans to close two loss-making blast furnaces at Port Talbot, after securing government funding to convert the site into a recycled steel production centre. © Gareth Iwan Jones/FT

The company said around 2,800 jobs would be cut at its loss-making British operation as part of a four-year transition to green steel, with the bulk of the redundancies coming at Port Talbot.

Its intention is to replace existing manufacturing processes with an electric arc furnace, which makes steel from scrap and requires much less labor.

Tata will invest £750m to fund the restructuring, backed by a £500m grant from the UK government.

However, the Welsh government and unions said London should have provided additional funding to allow a blast furnace to remain open longer. That would have reduced job losses and ensured the UK maintained the ability to make steel from scratch, they said.

Vaughan Gething, chancellor of the Labor-led Welsh administration, said Tata’s decision would leave the UK the only G7 country “dependent on… . “Steel is made for us.”

He said it was impossible to “underestimate the level of concern” within the local community, and that for every one “really well-paid” job at risk, at least three more would also be lost in the wider economy.

“It’s a huge amount of employment to extract from a community like this,” said Gething, who is running to become the next first minister of Wales.

He added that if the UK government really wants to “level up” – promising to boost the economic prospects of struggling regions – it “would have to recognize the magnitude of the additional challenge that is being created here”.

The nearby Llanwern plant lost its steelmaking function in 2001. Andrew Gutteridge, Abbey’s father and chairman of Multi Unions Llanwern working on what remains of the operation, said that “if you look at all the surrounding areas” of the town now, “there is nothing”.

Andrew Gutteridge said closure would ruin the community
Andrew Gutteridge said the closure would ruin the community: “This is a huge, huge kick for the whole of South Wales.” © Gareth Iwan Jones/FT

The uncertainty hanging over Port Talbot since redundancies were first discussed last year had “absolutely” damaged the mental health of the workforce, he said.

While there were alternative proposals on the table, there was “hope. . . but when the news leaked, it was absolutely devastating,” Gutteridge said.

Hughes said meetings with Unite members would begin next week.

“Obviously at the moment they are very angry, tensions are rising, so it is to evaluate what they want to do,” he said of possible industrial action. “And if I were a bettor, I know what they want to do.”

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