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Steel crisis: Unions urge Government support for plan to save jobs

Published 03/04/2016

Workers at the threatened Tata Steel plant in Port Talbot
Workers at the threatened Tata Steel plant in Port Talbot

Unions are stepping up their campaign to save thousands of jobs in the crisis hit steel industry with a new plan which needs Government support.

An emergency meeting of union representatives from Tata Steel plants across the UK was told of frantic efforts to stop the industry collapsing.

The plan will be presented to the Government tomorrow.

The unions set out their demands of Government, including helping to secure the customer base and guaranteeing production of Tata's UK steel operations so that customers are not lost following the company's shock announcement to sell its UK assets.

The Government was also urged to work to ensure the integrity of the business is guaranteed, because allowing Tata or other investors to cherry-pick assets will put steelmaking at risk.

Union officials said Tata's plants are viable but they require investment.

The business needs the investment originally planned by Tata - understood to be £1.5 billion over 10 years.

"This level of investment should be achievable given that any buyer would be gaining control of assets worth £4 billion," said a union statement.

"But Government support is needed to bridge the 2-3 years it will take to get back to self-sustainability."

The unions have engaged steel industry advisers Syndex UK to help develop its plans.

Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of Community, said: "It was clear from our meeting today that steelworkers are the guardians of their industry and they know what action is needed to secure the future of steelmaking in the UK.

"There needs to be a step-change in the level of Government involvement with Tata, its customers and the unions and this is why we have set out our demands.

"The Government needs to reassure the customer base, they need to make it clear to Tata that the integrity of the business must be maintained, and the Government must invest in our steel industry to give it a future."

Harish Patel, national officer of Unite, said: "Steelworkers are united in their view of what the Government must do. This business should have a future but it needs immediate action to reassure customers and protect the integrity of the business. We don't want to hear more warm words from ministers. We want Government to work with us to deliver this plan, invest in the future of steelmaking and protect the jobs of thousands of steelworkers across the UK."

Dave Hulse, national officer of the GMB, said: "There is no time for further delay from this Government. They need to be loud and clear to instil confidence in customers and steelworkers that this business will have a future.

"Government must hold Tata to being a responsible seller. You can't rush selling off the UK steel industry. Everybody needs to work together in the best interests of our industrial security and steel communities across the UK."

Union leaders are hoping to present their plan to the Government on Tuesday.

Business Secretary Sajid Javid met with a Tata official on Monday, while contact continued to be made with potential buyers or investors.

Business Minister Anna Soubry will appear before the Welsh Affairs Committee on April 12 to answer questions about the future of steel production in Port Talbot.

Speaking outside the Business Department before the meeting, with Tata, she said that while talks were ongoing regarding the planned sale of Tata's Scunthorpe plant, the future of the Port Talbot steelworks was a "different kettle of fish".

"In that sense that is where we are losing a lot of money, well Tata is. There's a big job to be done there."

Ms Soubry again defended Government policy towards helping the industry, adding: "We've been implementing a compensation scheme, and we'll be exempting steel from two of the green tariffs from December 2017.

"So we're doing all of these things, along with the tariffs as well."

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "The next few days will be crucial for UK steel. Ministers need to show British steelworkers that they are on their side.

"Other EU governments have acted to support their steel industries, ours must do the same.

"Securing a future for Tata's UK steel plants is a crucial first step. But the Government also needs to ensure that British manufacturers can compete in the global market over the longer term and retain their highly-skilled workforces.

"This means standing up to China over steel dumping and developing an industrial strategy that places UK steel at its heart."

Shadow business secretary Angela Eagle said: "The future of British steelmaking is hanging in the balance.

"Labour has been demanding action for months to address the growing crisis in this vital strategic industry. The Welsh Assembly has been recalled and the steel unions are working hard to find a way forward.

"Yet the crisis continues to grow and the Government is still missing in action. They have refused to recall Parliament and their response has been utterly chaotic. They need to get a grip fast. We've had enough of warm words, now is the time for concrete action."

Sanjeev Gupta, head of the Liberty Group, said he had "very encouraging" talks with the Government and raised the possibility of taking over the Port Talbot steelworks without huge job losses.

Mr Gupta told the BBC he believed jobs at Port Talbot could be saved if at least 700 workers in its blast furnaces were retrained.

"We've never undertaken anything which requires redundancies - I won't undertake something which will require mass redundancies," he said.

Mr Javid tweeted: "Just held productive meeting with senior Tata executives to discuss UK #steel sales process. Progress is being made."

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