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Tata's ‘threats won’t deter us’

Unite calls on steel company to negotiate rather than issue threats to slash jobs

UNITE called on Tata today to negotiate rather than issue threats to bring forward closure of Port Talbot blast furnaces if it wants strike action suspended.

The Indian conglomerate had been planning to turn off both furnaces by September in order to switch to electric arc technology at a cost of 2,800 South Wales jobs.

But on Thursday it claimed that Unite’s indefinite strike next month had been left it “with no alternative” but to shut them down by July 7 due to not having enough staff to ensure safe operations.

Today Unite general secretary Sharon Graham hit back, saying the union is fighting for the future of the steel industry.

“We have secured serious investment from Labour to safeguard jobs,” she said.

“Tata putting out a statement to shut or pause its blast furnaces three months earlier than they intended to is the latest in a long line of threats that won’t deter us.

“The Unite campaign is not about selling jobs, it’s about securing the long-term future of steelmaking in this country for thousands of workers in Port Talbot and South Wales.

“We call on the real decision-makers in Mumbai to take hold of this dispute, sit down, negotiate and realise that the investment secured will be good for the company and workers.”

Unite’s national lead Onay Kasab told the Morning Star that Tata’s claims about safety were “completely and utterly false.

“We need discussion and negotiation so we can get to a position where we can suspend action,” he said.

“We need a resolution: we cannot have the company turning the burners off.”

Mr Kasab explained that he had emailed Tata bosses on the day the union’s strike action notice was issued to discuss Unite member exemptions to ensure safe operations.

After chasing the company up, it agreed to discuss the derogations this morning, he said: “And yet yesterday a communication went out to staff saying they were happy to close the burners because Unite had refused to agree exemptions.”

He said the topic of discussion with Mumbai bosses would have to be known in advance, be “meaningful” and that any decision would have to be agreed by Unite members.

Stephen Kinnock, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Aberafan Maesteg, and David Rees, Labour’s Member of the Senedd for Aberavon, said: “Tata wouldn’t be in this position of facing strike action had it not chosen to press ahead at break-neck speed with the closures of the blast furnaces.

“We have been consistently clear throughout this process that Tata should avoid taking any action that cannot be reversed before waiting to see the result of the general election, given the very real prospect of sitting down with an incoming Labour government to discuss its promised £2.5 billion Steel Renewal Fund.

“More immediately, Tata and Unite must get back around the table to reach an agreement on securing the safety of the site at all times which would include agreeing on the derogations required to prevent strikes causing safety risks, thus removing the need to close down Blast Furnace 5 early.

“This will allow an incoming Labour government time to negotiate the future of steel making in Wales with Tata.”

Community and GMB union members at Port Talbot have also been campaigning against Tata’s plans but have ruled out taking industrial action before the general election.

Community national officer Alun Davies said: “Community condemns Tata’s unacceptable decision to bring forward the closure of the Port Talbot blast furnaces.

“We continue to support the Labour Party’s call for Tata not to make irreversible decisions before the general election, and we urge all stakeholders to engage in meaningful discussions through the Multi-Union Steel Committee.”

GMB national officer Charlotte Brumpton-Childs said: “Tata must step back from this irreversible decision and safeguard steelmaking assets.

“There’s a general election in days that could change so much.

“We know there is a future for steelmaking in South Wales. That future must be preserved.”

Welsh First Minister Vaughan Gething said Tata’s decision to close the furnaces next week was “extraordinary,” adding: “Acting whilst the nation goes to the polls does not help to de-escalate matters.

“Urgent and good faith negotiations are now required to ensure safety at the site and avoid an outcome that would have such a severe and lasting impact on Port Talbot, Wales and the UK.”

Greenpeace UK’s head of climate Mel Evans said: “Tata should be listening to its steelworkers, not slamming the door behind them as soon as they threaten to walk out.”

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