Industrial action at steel giant Tata suspended by Unite

A planned strike by workers at steel giant Tata over job losses has been suspended.

Members of Unite have been taking industrial action such as banning overtime and were due to stage an all-out strike from next Monday.

The union is embroiled in a dispute with the company over plans to close the two blast furnaces at its plant in Port Talbot, south Wales and switch to a greener way of steel production, which needs fewer workers.

The union said the current industrial action and next week’s strike had been suspended.

A group of people hold a big banner that reads 'support UK steel' outside the Houses of Parliament
Unions are all calling for Tata to change their decision to close two blast furnaces (Lucy North/PA)

Unite said its decision follows confirmation from Tata, arising from high-level talks throughout the weekend, that it was prepared to enter into negotiations about future investment for its operations and not just redundancies, in South Wales, including at Port Talbot.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “This is a significant development in the battle to protect jobs and the long-term future of steel making in South Wales. Investment from Labour secured by Unite will be key to the future of the site.

“This breakthrough would not have come about without the courage of our members at Port Talbot who were prepared to stand up and fight for their jobs. Workers were simply not prepared to stand idly by while steel making ended and their communities were laid to waste.

“It is essential that these talks progress swiftly and in good faith with the focus on fresh investment and ensuring the long-term continuation of steel making in South Wales.”

Community and the GMB unions are also calling for Tata to change its plans but have not called for industrial action.

Alun Davies, national officer for Community said: “With thousands of jobs at stake, we welcome Unite’s decision to withdraw their strike action and get back around the table with their sister steel unions.

“Tata confirmed that if the strike was called off, they are ready to resume discussions on a potential MOU (memorandum of understanding) through the Multi-Union Steel Committee which is chaired by Community.

“The truth is Tata never walked away from those discussions, and at our last meeting on 22 May, all unions agreed to conclude the negotiations and put the outcome to our members.

“Community will welcome resuming those discussions, but we regret that zero progress has been made since 22 May.”

The first blast furnace is due to be shut down on Thursday and the second at the end of September.

A Tata Steel spokesperson said: “We have received written confirmation from Unite that with immediate effect they are suspending their current action short of a strike as well as the potential strike action due to commence on July 8.

“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 UKSC (steel committee) will progress from the position reached in the last meeting of May 22 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.

“The wind down process for Blast Furnace 5 has now begun to plan and we expect to produce the final iron at the end of this week.”