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Metal Miner

Metal Miner

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Strike Threatens To Halt Production at Key UK Steel Plant

  • Tata Steel workers vote to strike against plans to close blast furnaces in Port Talbot, UK.
  • The decision follows Tata's announcement to replace the blast furnaces with electric arc furnaces as part of its decarbonization scheme.
  • The strike could have a significant impact on the UK steel industry, with the Port Talbot plant being one of the largest steel producers in the country.
Steel Plant

Via Metal Miner

 

Tata Steel workers associated with the Unite Trade Union at Port Talbot recently voted to strike over plans to replace the site’s two blast furnaces with electric arc furnaces. The decision immediately led to discussions about the near and long-term future of the UK steel industry as well as Tata’s production capabilities.

“Around 1,500 Tata steelworkers based in Port Talbot and Newport Llanwern have voted decisively for industrial action over the company’s plan to close its blast furnaces and shed 2,800 jobs,” United stated in an April 11 announcement. Balloting for industrial action finished on the same date after beginning on March 8.

“In the crucial weeks to come, Tata’s workers and Unite will put up picket lines to prevent the company from taking this disastrous path,” Unite added in its statement. On April 11, the UK steel industry’s Community Trade Union announced that it had also commenced balloting for strike action in a process that would run for one month.

Proposed Compromises from Unions Were Largely Ignored

In January, Tata Steel announced plans to permanently blow down its two blast furnaces under a £1.25 billion ($1.55 billion) decarbonization scheme. That plan stipulates replacing them and associated equipment with two electric arc furnaces, which would start operations in 2027.

The Community and GMB unions stated that the tentative combined crude steel capacity from the new furnaces is 3 million metric tons. Port Talbot can pour up to 5 million metric tons per year from its convertor shop, which contains two basic oxygen furnaces and which Tata also plans to remove.

Decommissioning of coking ovens began on March 20 of 2024. According to the January 19 announcement, Tata planned to blow down one blast furnace in H1, whilst the second will blow down in H2. However, rolling is to continue during the upgrade and slab feedstock will come from other plants within the Tata group.

UK Government Partners with Industry Giant

Tata announced in September that it had reached a tentative agreement with the UK government on decarbonization. The UK Government will tentatively cover £500 million ($620 million) of the replacement costs, while the remainder is to come from Tata’s own coffers.

Unions originally proposed that Tata replace only one blast furnace and allow the adjacent BF 4 to continue operating until the end of its campaign, which is due in 2032. However, the steel industry giant rejected the proposal as work to build an EAF in an operating melt shop would be risky, incur higher costs, and potentially cause delays to the EAF’s planned 2027 start.

Unite countered that explanation in its statement. “At the Tata plant in the Netherlands, the blast furnaces are being kept open and jobs protected as the company builds an electric arc furnace and invests in hydrogen DRI technology,” the union stated.

Tata Threatens to Cut Redundancy Package in the Event of a Steel Industry Strike

Port Talbot is in southern Wales on the Bristol Channel, about 30 miles west of Cardiff.

The plant can roll up to 3 million metric tons of hot rolled coil and 1.2 million metric tons of cold rolled coil. In addition, Port Talbot can produce a total of 975,000 metric tons of annealed steel

Meanwhile, the Llanwern plant, situated about 50 miles east of Port Talbot can roll about 3.2 million metric tons of hot rolled coil in 1.2-2.5mm gauges and 1.5 million metric tons of cold rolled coil in 0.3-3mm gauges. That site also has a hot dipped galvanizing line with a capacity of 360,000 metric tons.

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A representative for Unite also confirmed a BBC report from April 15, which stated that Tata warned workers that the company would withhold a “significantly enhanced” redundancy package if they go on strike. Indeed, the BBC quoted Tata Steel’s chief executive of UK operation, Rajesh Nair, as saying that the company had “put forward a significantly enhanced, comprehensive package of support for employees impacted by the proposed transformation.”

However, Nair warned that “these significantly enhanced employee support arrangements are conditional upon there being no industrial action in the business.”

By Christopher Rivituso

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