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Union calls off Port Talbot strike after Tata Steel threatens to close steelworks early

02 July 2024

Trade union Unite has suspended strike action it had planned for 8 July at Tata Steel’s Port Talbot plant after the steel giant threatened to cease operations at the facility. The company had been planning to shut just one blast furnace by the end of June with the second closing by September as part of its plans to invest £1.25 billion in Electric Arc Furnace technology which would see around 2,800 job losses.

Image: Tata Steel
Image: Tata Steel

In response to the strike action called by Unite Union, which had been scheduled to begin on 8 July, a Tata Steel spokesperson said on 28 June: “In the coming days, if we cannot be certain that we are able to continue to safely and stably operate our assets through the period of strike action, we will not have any choice but to pause or stop heavy end operations (including both blast furnaces) on the Port Talbot site.

Unite announced on 21 June that around 1,500 workers at the Port Talbot site would begin indefinite strike action as a result of Tata Steel’s plans to cut jobs. Unite’s national lead, Onay Kasab, has said that the union would be having conversations with Tata regarding safety during the strike action, however he denied that the strike would give the steel company an opportunity to close the site down earlier than planned.

On 1 July, Tata confirmed it had received written confirmation from Unite that the strike action would be suspended with immediate effect. Tata said: “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 UK Steel Committee 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.”

As part of its decarbonisation plans, Tata Steel confirmed on 2 July that the process of bringing operations at Blast Furnace 5 to a close had begun. Tata is investing around £1.25 billion into the Port Talbot plant, along with £500 million from the UK government, to help decarbonise its operations. The transformation would secure most of Tata Steel UK’s existing product capability and maintain the country’s self-sufficiency in steelmaking, while also reducing Tata Steel UK’s CO2 emissions by 5 million tonnes per year and overall UK country emissions by about 1.5%, the company has said.

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