Tata strike action scrapped after threat to shut Port Talbot steelworks

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

Unite has withdrawn its planned strike action at Tata in Port Talbot. It comes after the steel giant said it would bring forward the closure of both blast furnaces which would trigger mass redundancies if the strike went ahead.

When Tata announced a plan to end virgin steel production at Port Talbot the timeline was for blast furnace five to close in July and blast furnace four closing in September 2024. The second closure would result In a loss of 2,800 jobs, with 1,900 at the Port Talbot site.

All three unions which represent workers at the site have balloted for strike action. Unite set a date of July 8 for action to start, while GMB and Community held off. Then, on Thursday, June 27, Tata said it would bring forward the closure date of both furnaces to July 7 with work due to start on closing them down from today (July 1). The company said that otherwise it could not guarantee operations would be "safe and stable".

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Unite has now withdrawn its strike action. That means, the company has confirmed, that blast furnace five will still close this week, but the second furnace will remain open until September, ensuring the heavy end of the plant also remains open and delaying the mass job losses.

The union has said action is "paused" as is an overtime ban that started in June 17 as Tata has confirmed it will "enter negotiations about future investment".

A statement reads: "The decision follows confirmation from Tata, arising from high level talks throughout the weekend, that it was now prepared to enter into negotiations about future investment for its operations and not just redundancies, in South Wales, including at Port Talbot."

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “This is a significant development in the battle to protect jobs and the long-term future of steel making in South Wales. Investment from Labour secured by Unite will be key to the future of the site.

"This breakthrough would not have come about without the courage of our members at Port Talbot who were prepared to stand up and fight for their jobs. Workers were simply not prepared to stand idly by while steel making ended and their communities were laid to waste.

"It is essential that these talks progress swiftly and in good faith with the focus on fresh investment and ensuring the long-term continuation of steel making in South Wales."

Unite wanted the company to wait for the general election result on Thursday, July 4, but Tata has said a new Labour administration would not be able to plug the £1m a day losses they say the plant is making. The UK Conservative Government has agreed a £500m grant which is says was the only way to secure any jobs at the site, although Labour opposes the proposal.

A Tata spokesman said at the time that the company would not take the decision lightly. Unite has now confirmed it will withdraw its planned strike action and return to the decision table.

Alun Davies, National Officer for Community the steelworkers’ union, said: "With thousands of jobs at stake, we welcome Unite’s decision to withdraw their strike action and get back around the table with their sister steel unions. Tata confirmed that if the strike was called off they are ready to resume discussions on a potential MOU, through the Multi-Union Steel Committee which is chaired by Community.

"The truth is Tata never walked away from those discussions, and at our last meeting on May 22 all unions agreed to conclude the negotiations and put the outcome to our members. Community will welcome resuming those discussions, but we regret that zero progress has been made since May 22".

A Tata Steel spokesperson said: “We have received written confirmation from Unite Union that with immediate effect they are suspending their current action short of a strike as well as the potential strike action due to commence on Monday 8 July.

“As a result, and given we can now be confident of ensuring appropriate resourcing of activities to operate safely, we will halt preparations for the early cessation of operations on Blast Furnace 4 and the wider heavy end in Port Talbot, planned for this week - we welcome the fact that we have avoided having to progress down this path.

The resumption of discussions with the UKSC will progress from the position reached in the last meeting of 22 May and will focus on the future investments and aspirations for the business, and not on a renegotiation of our existing plan for the heavy-end closure or the enhanced employment support terms.

“The wind down process for Blast Furnace 5 has now begun to plan and we expect to produce the final iron at the end of this week.”