Responding to today’s announcement from Tata Steel, Roy Rickhuss, General Secretary of the steelworkers’ union, Community, said:
“I have been in direct contact with senior Tata executives at the board meeting in Mumbai. This follows conversations I had with senior government ministers yesterday. Tata have outlined the situation following their board meeting. Tata is now in dialogue with Thyssenkrupp regarding its strip products division and connected downstream operations. They also explained that the speciality business in Stocksbridge and Rotherham as well as two of its three tube mills in Hartlepool will now be sold separately. However, the current status of the sales process is unclear and this will be frustrating for our members, and perhaps even the bidders.
“This new approach means that uncertainty will continue for thousands of steelworkers and their families. It seems Tata believe this is in the best interests of sustaining steelmaking in Port Talbot and its downstream operations but the test will come in the next steps that Tata takes and how the dialogue with Thyssenkrupp progresses. There have been reports of talks between Thyssenkrupp and Tata for some time, so now Tata should come clean about their intentions.
“Tata must also recognise the level of frustration, even anger, among the workforce over these delays and uncertainty. It is vital that they work with Community to reassure and protect the greatest asset to the business – its people.
“Today’s announcement raises many more questions and we will be seeking answers on behalf of our members in the coming days. Any joint venture will raise significant issues as to the future of the UK businesses but it also has the potential to be a positive development. Community will seek assurances in regards to future investment in the UK. Today I have asked for Community to have the opportunity to examine and, if necessary, challenge, any plans resulting from the discussions between Tata and Thyssenkrupp. Tata has accepted and agreed to this point.
“As regards the speciality business and the operation in Hartlepool, as we have said before, Tata needs to be a responsible seller, upholding its moral and social responsibilities to those steel communities.
“The sales process must test both the intentions and capabilities of any potential bidders, Tata must allow Community direct access to any bidder and there should be no further fragmentation of these businesses. Neither the speciality business nor two of the Hartlepool tube mills are part of the Port Talbot supply chain, so an argument could be made that they could have a successful future on their own with the right vision and investment.
“However, we do believe that making these businesses stand alone is unnecessary as there are significant advantages to being part of a larger steel group. Indeed, this has been an important factor in sustaining these businesses in recent years.
“This further potential fragmentation of the UK steel industry makes it all the more important that the government brings forward and supports the development of an overarching vision for steel in the UK. We believe that this is crucial to future success and we will be setting out our own vision for steel in the coming days, drawing on the collective wisdom and decades of experience of our members.
“Today’s announcement also brings us closer to testing the commitments that the UK government has made to steelworkers in recent months. The government claims that it is business as usual following the shock referendum result, but now they need to prove that is the case by turning their words into action. Community has stressed to both government and Tata that finding a solution to the British Steel Pension Scheme has to be a priority. We do not consider the Pension Protection Fund to be an adequate option.
“The government needs to help calm the fears of thousands of steelworkers in the months ahead. Ministers have spoken of continuing steel making in Port Talbot’s blast furnaces. They have also insisted that a country that manufactures must have a steel industry. Now they must deliver on those promises they have made to steelworkers and their communities.”
“Community will continue to play its role at the heart of the process, working with Tata, potential bidders and the government to secure a sustainable future for steel making in the UK.”
Further information: Matt Ball 07799 772250 or Katie Curtis 07540 756335