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UK Trade Union Prepares for Showdown with Tata Steel

  • Community trade union plans to ballot its members at Tata Steel for strike action over plans to replace blast furnaces with electric arc furnaces at the Port Talbot site.
  • Tata Steel officially announced its plans to blow down Port Talbot’s blast furnaces in January 2024.
  • Davies emphasized that consultations are ongoing and that Community has not yet exhausted the procedures, so they are not yet confirming a strike ballot timetable.
Blast Furnace

Via Metal Miner

 

The latest steel news and sources from the UK indicate that the Community trade union plans to ballot its members at Tata Steel for strike action. The move comes amid the company's plans to replace two blast furnaces at the Port Talbot site with electric arc furnaces.

“Community representatives from all Tata Steel UK plants have unanimously agreed to serve notice on the company should Tata confirm their intention to close Blast Furnace Number 4,” the London-headquartered union quoted its national officer for steel, Alun Davies.

Tata Steel officially announced its plans to blow down Port Talbot’s blast furnaces in January 2024. The company plans to replace them with EAFs with an estimated annual capacity of 3 million metric tons.

In September, the UK government and Mumbai-headquartered Tata Steel also reached a preliminary agreement over a £1.25 billion ($1.58 billion) funding package for decarbonizing the plant, which lies in southwestern Wales on the Bristol Channel shore.

Port Talbot’s two blast furnaces can currently produce up to 4.8 million metric tons of pig iron. Using this, the plant can subsequently produce up to 5 million metric tons of crude steel via its two basic oxygen furnaces. That said, the plant is not currently operating at full capacity. Tata told UK steel news sources it plans to blow down the first of the two blast furnaces in H1, and the second in H2.

More Unions Could Strike Amid Fast-Changing UK Steel News

In November 2023, unions associated with the plant proposed to continue operating BF No. 4 until the end of its campaign in 2032. During this time, Tata could build one smaller EAF and either a second one or an open slag bath furnace. However, Tata rejected the proposal on the grounds of costs and safety.

Tata also warned that the union’s proposal would potentially cause delays to the planned 2027 start-up of the furnaces. However, Davies noted that consultations remain ongoing. “At this point, we remain in national consultations, and the company has not responded to our revised version of the Multi-Union Plan, which our experts continue to develop,” the union quoted Davies as saying.

Davies also did not indicate a timeline for when the strike ballot would occur. “Therefore, at this time, Community is not confirming an industrial action ballot timetable, and this would be premature as we have not yet exhausted the procedures,” he stated. Meanwhile, officials at GMB, another union associated with Port Talbot, did not indicate to MetalMiner whether or not they also planned to ballot their members for strike action.

In related steel news, the United Kingdom’s Trade Remedies Authority (TRA) recently announced a suspension review on the 25% safeguard measure for hot rolled flat and coil steel imports into the country. This comes alongside a tariff quota review during installation work at Port Talbot.

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By Christopher Rivituso

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