Port Talbot job losses 'far worse' contractors claim as workers describe seeing devastated colleagues crying

-Credit: (Image: John Myers)
-Credit: (Image: John Myers)

Contractors working at Tata Steel claim the true picture of those affected by job losses within the company is far worse than described when their roles are factored in, whilst calling for the efforts of such employees who have performed "vital" roles there for more than two decades to be better recognised.

Tata has said that arc furnaces, which are more environmentally friendly, are set to replace the traditional blast furnaces at the Port Talbot steelworks, but they require thousands fewer staff - meaning up to 2,800 people could be made redundant - an initial 2,500, with potential for another 300 over the next three years. But contractors claim that figure only factors in those who are contracted to Tata, and that when counting those who work there through contracting firms, the people losing their jobs will be thousands more.

Tata has said it recognises the "critical role" that contracting partners play in the business, and pointed out it would be spending £1.25 billion in Port Talbot over the course of the next four years. For the latest Neath Port Talbot news, sign up to our newsletter here.

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Jason Balston has worked at Tata Steel for 26 years as a contractor for Lloyd Walters Industrial Services, where he performs the role of a dozer driver. He is also the head of the trade union Community.

He said: "It is being said is that there are 2,800 jobs being affected, when in actual fact, there’s thousands more jobs being affected when you consider contractors. The contracting community is massive, and for every one contracted worker, there are three contractors, and that’s not to mention the knock-on effect when you consider the supply chain. We’ve been told one furnace is going at the end of June and one in September.

“We’ve been told we’ll only get basic statutory redundancy which is 1.5 weeks, nothing else. But we’re actually tier one contractors, we should be getting the same rate that Tata workers are getting, which is 2.8 weeks a year for every year served.

'I've seen grown men crying'

“If I said, ‘Alright boys, you park your machines by there, now’, we could stop the steelworks quicker than Tata ever could - within three hours, the furnaces would be out. We play a vital role there, we work 24/7, 365 days out the year, but we are being treated like second class citizens. The morale is terrible at the moment.

Tata steelworks in Port Talbot will be closing down blast furnaces later this year to be replaced with an electric arc furnace
Tata steelworks in Port Talbot will be closing down blast furnaces later this year to be replaced with an electric arc furnace -Credit:John Myers

"I’ve seen grown men who I work with crying. I’m lucky, I am 56-years-old, I haven’t got a mortgage, I haven’t got any children, but there are young boys here with young families who have taken out a mortgage. To see their faces. I tell them, boys, I am fighting your corner, but this is what we’re up against.

"I would like to see contractors, not get the same deal as Tata, but a very similar deal. We’re not asking for mega money, all we’re asking is to be appreciated. Even if the offer was two, or 2.2, we’d be happy. All we want is a little thank you for the work we’ve put in.”

Senior figures in the Labour party visited Tata in Port Talbot on Monday, June 10, and urged the company to wait for a possible Labour government next month so fresh talks can take place. The hopes is that one furnace can be left on while a transition to green steel production takes place - something a union has called for.

Bosses at Tata have claimed the company is losing £1m a day and the changes, first announced in January, are needed to stop this happening. It claimed it was not safe and made no financial sense to continue with blast furnace operations while at the same time building an electric arc furnace.

Marc Jerrard has worked as a contractor at Tata for 28 years, having first started there in 1997, he works as a team leader. The 53-year-old said: "As for redundancies, we understand we don’t do work directly for Tata, but having said that, I’ve been there for 28 years, and we directly influence how much liquid tonnage comes through the blast furnaces. If it wasn’t for us, Tata wouldn’t make a gram of steel in that steelworks.

'A bit of a travesty'

“Contractors are being very overlooked by Tata, and it’s a little bit sad on their behalf that they are not acknowledging us. If it wasn’t directly for us, they wouldn’t be able to make a gram of steel. We could probably, if we wanted to, close the furnaces down quicker than any Tata personnel could do, but we wouldn’t do that, we’re not that way inclined. But it’s a vital role that we perform.

Tata steelworks in Port Talbot that will be closing down it's blast furnaces later this year
Tata steelworks in Port Talbot that will be closing down it's blast furnaces later this year -Credit:John Myers

“In my time at the steelworks, we, my firm especially, has directly influenced 120 million tonne of liquid steel coming out of the blasts. We would just like some sort of acknowledgement from Tata for that.

“In our contract, it states any redundancy, Tata will pay, which is a basic redundancy package. Tata workers will get 2.1 right from the year that they start, so if they have been there ten years, they’ll get 2.1 for the ten years they have been there. Our package is, from the age of 18, through to 41, a week for every year, and then from 41 onwards - I have got 12 years of a week and a half, no bonus as such.

“There is about 3,000 contractors across 27 different groups. I dare say you could put another 1,000 on top of that. I don’t think it should be up to our firm or any other contracting firms, to be footing a bill for Tata’s decision to close the heavy end. I think it’s a bit of a travesty."

'We have been proactive'

A Tata Steel spokesman said: “Our contractor partners have long played a critical role in sustaining the UK steel industry, often working hand-in-hand with our own employees, sometimes throughout their careers. While we are very conscious of the impact of our restructuring plans on our employees; we are no less conscious of the potential impact on our wider supply chain partners and local communities.

“From the start of the restructuring and transformation process, we have held regular engagements with contractor companies and we have been very proactive in communicating with all workers on our sites through printed newspapers, contractor-specific meetings and publicly-facing social media.

“The terms and conditions of any employee of a contractor partner or supplier are strictly between them and their employer – we play no role whatsoever in their remuneration or benefits package – nor their redundancy terms. There is no doubt that many of our suppliers and contractor partners will continue to be fundamental to the success of our restructuring and transformation to low CO2 steelmaking, and we are working extremely closely with them to provide as much clarity as we can about our future requirements.

“We should not forget that in the next four years Tata Steel will be spending around £1.25 billion in Port Talbot, not only building a new plant, but also decommissioning the assets that are closing, while continuing to run a three million tonnes per year steel business. We hope that our ambition for a just transition for our own workers is reflected by our suppliers and contractor partners." Join our WhatsApp news community here for the latest breaking news.