Unions have voiced concerns for the future of Tata’s steel plants following a warning they may have to close without Government support.
The company has been in talks with the Government about decarbonisation plans, but discussions are said to have stalled.
“A transition to a greener steel plant is the intention that we have … But this is only possible with financial help from the Government,” Natarajan Chandrasekaran, chairman of Tata Group, told the Financial Times.
Unions said they are particularly worried about the future of the giant Port Talbot plant in South Wales as well as Tata’s other Welsh sites.
Unite official Peter Hughes said: “The Government need to urgently refocus their attention from who their next leader is going to be and concentrate on supporting workers and the maintenance of highly skilled, well paid steel jobs here in Wales.”
Unions said it is understood that Tata is seeking £1.5 billion in UK state aid to help fund the closure of two blast furnaces at Port Talbot and their replacement with two electric arc furnaces that are less carbon-intensive.
Unite national officer Tony Brady said: “The words of Mr Chandrasekran will hang heavy over the steel towns of Wales this morning, and in particular at Port Talbot.
“The steel industry is central to the economy of Wales and as a critical foundation industry must be maintained at all costs.
“The UK Government needs to act immediately and intervene to financially support Tata in its plans to put Port Talbot at the cutting edge of green steel production. No steel plant in the world has decarbonised their production without Government assistance.”
A spokesman for the Community union said: “This intervention from Tata is shocking, and has been made without any consultation with the trade unions. For months we’ve been in discussions with the company, but we should be clear there is no agreement on the decarbonisation roadmap.
"Tata and the Government must do whatever it takes to secure the future of steelmaking at Port Talbot, and work with the trade unions to safeguard our vital strategic industry."
Our full response ⬇️https://t.co/rbzpEQ2dJa
— Community Union (@CommunityUnion) July 22, 2022
“The unions have been working with our experts exploring low-carbon options that will protect our country’s steelmaking capacity, jobs and communities. That process is unfinished, but Tata’s comments make a mockery of the company’s commitments to an open and transparent dialogue with the unions.
“Tata and the Government must do whatever it takes to secure the future of steelmaking at Port Talbot, and work with the trade unions to safeguard our vital strategic industry. Steelworkers will feel badly let down by Tata, and the company must live up to their moral and social responsibilities to the workforce.”
A Government spokesman said: “Steel plays a critical role in all areas of the UK economy and Tata is a valued steel producer and significant employer in the UK.
“Our ongoing support for the sector’s low-carbon transition includes the £289 million Industrial Energy Transformation Fund and more than £1 billion to help with energy efficiency, decarbonisation, low-carbon infrastructure and for research and development.”
Stephen Kinnock, Labour MP for Aberavon, said: “The workforce at the Port Talbot steel works in my Aberavon constituency make the best steel that money can buy, but yet again they’re being let down by a zombie Conservative government which seem to think we should just stop making steel in Britain and start importing it all from China instead.
“There is not a single steel industry in the world that is able to decarbonise without substantial government support, so why on earth have Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss and the rest of the Cabinet been dragging their feet on this for so long?
“The Labour Party has set out plans for a £3 billion steel renewal fund, which would deliver for the British steel industry by partnering with Tata Steel and the other UK-based steelmakers to forge a strong, resilient and zero-carbon steel industry.”
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Our focus continues to be to explore all avenues to secure a successful, low-carbon future for Welsh steel. This goal is entirely possible, but it requires action and grip from the UK Government.
“We have repeatedly called on UK ministers to urgently bring forward a package of support to secure steel-making at Port Talbot. Welsh Government officials are today engaging with the company, UK Government and trades unions to seek an urgent resolution.
“The steel industry, and its highly skilled, dedicated workforce, is a crucial cornerstone to our economy and its future is essential to our prosperity and security.”