Stick with the workforce at Port Talbot: UK union boss tells Tata Steel board

Vidya Ram London | Updated on January 20, 2018 Published on March 25, 2016


Roy Rickhuss to meet company’s board next week

The head of one of the largest unions representing Tata Steel workers in the UK has called on the company to stick with the workforce, amid reports in the UK press that a board meeting on Tuesday could determine the future of its Port Talbot steel works.

Roy Rickhuss, General Secretary of the Community union, is set to head to Mumbai to meet with representatives of the board, alongside the MP for the Port Talbot area Stephen Kinnock.

Concerns about the future of Port Talbot have been mounting over the past week amid reports in the British press that a turnaround plan for Port Talbot in January that had been meant to be given up to two years to progress might be given considerably less time to work, putting the future of the strip products business at Port Talbot at risk.

“We are asking for them to give the turnaround plan time,” Rickhuss said in an interview with BusinessLine ahead of his trip. “Up till now Tata have supported the UK business, and invested in the business, and put resources to sustain this business, so up till this point Tata have been extremely positive.”

‘Fight for Port Talbot’

“The fight for Port Talbot is the fight for steel making in the UK. It’s unthinkable without it.”

“That’s one of the issues that they will be seeking clarification of next week: We have a turnaround plan: are you going to support it and give it the time it needs?” said Rickhuss. “The question we don’t really want to ask is what is plan B? Does this mean closure or part closure? The reality of it is that it’s an absolutely massive decision.”

Rickhuss acknowledged the challenging situation that Tata faced. “Up till now Tata have been very successful at avoiding hard (forced) redundancies — and have managed to accommodate people who wanted to leave. In this latest round at Port Talbot, it’s too early to say but there is a strong likelihood that it will be difficult to avoid hard redundancies.”

Much of the future also lay in the hands of the UK and European governments, he said, and in particular in their handling of dumping from outside the EU and China and their willingness to apply higher duty levels than currently applied, under the EU’s application of the lesser duty rule.

Unions and the UK steel industry’s representative body were critical of the UK’s Budget announced two weeks ago, and in particular the decision not to exclude plant and machinery from the determination of business rates (commercial property tax), which hit companies that invested in equipment and plants, and which are one reason why the costs of operating in the UK are higher than in the rest of Europe. However, the government did announce the creation of an enterprise zone around Port Talbot to ameliorate the impact of the job losses facing the community.

Following the media reports last week, Tata Steel said that it had invested significantly in its UK operations but had been forced to take steps to cut costs in the face of “extremely challenging market conditions.”

“This is an absolutely critical time for the UK steel industry. The environment for steel making is not improving and Tata Steel continues to invest considerable amounts into its UK business just to sustain operations.”

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Published on March 25, 2016
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