On 29 March, Tata Steel proposed a reduction of 726 from its 4,000-strong workforce at the South Wales plant. This marks the latest stage in a painful process after Tata said it was to cut more than 1,000 jobs, including those at Port Talbot.
Port Talbot is Britain’s biggest steelworks, in terms of both workforce and output, so the cuts will have a knock-on effect across South Wales and beyond – to such an extent that Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said the UK was in the midst of an “industrial crisis of enormous proportions”.
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He called for the creation of a steel task force and for the government to intervene to save the steel industry like it did the banks during the financial crisis. However, this is but one of the many criticisms that have been aimed the government’s way. There has been much anger over how the UK government has handled the situation so far. While a delegation of local union representatives went to Mumbai to lobby Tata, no government ministers showed up.
Furthermore, the government been criticised for not doing enough to protect the UK steel industry. According to Kate Ferguson of the Press Association: “Sharply falling prices and a flood of cheap, foreign steel has sparked major concern for the future of the British steel industry, and the many jobs that depend on it. The debate comes as Britain has been courting China hard in a bid to foster closer trade links. Chancellor George Osborne said the two nations should ‘stick together and create a golden decade’ while on a visit to China last September.
“The following month, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Britain and was treated to a State banquet at Buckingham Palace, where he sat between the Queen and the Duchess of Cambridge. Set in this context, the government has been accused of betraying British steelworkers to curry favour with the Chinese.”
However, prime minister David Cameron claimed the government is “doing everything it can” to save thousands of steel jobs – and that ministers had been working “for months” to save the industry. And business secretary Sajid Javid, who cut short a business visit to Australia to return to the UK and has faced criticism for his absence during the crisis, is set to visit Port Talbot to speak to the workers.
Of the news, business secretary Sajid Javid said: “I am deeply concerned about the situation. I think it is absolutely clear that the UK steel industry is absolutely vital for the country. We will look at all viable options to keep steelmaking continuing in Port Talbot.”
Soon to arrive at Port Talbot, Javid is expected to say that all possible ministerial, official and diplomatic influence will be exerted to help secure the long-term future of the steel industry. He will also suggest that once the formal Tata sales process is underway, independent advisors will be appointed by government.
Javid will soon be working with the commercial secretary to the Treasury Jim O’Neill, chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Oliver Letwin and Welsh secretary Alun Cairns in helping secure a buyer for Tata’s steel assets following the announcement of the firm’s intention to divest UK assets.
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