Governments must step up for steel

Andy Richards says the UK and Welsh Governments must stop dithering over the way forward for steel.

Last night’s news from Mumbai was devastating for Wales and the rest of the UK. This is an extremely difficult time for steel workers, particularly for those employed here in Wales. Communities across the Country have a proud industrial history and it is shocking that after decades of production, the steel industry is on the verge of extinction.

We have called on the National Assembly for Wales, along with the UK Parliament, to reconvene and discuss the implications of last nights decision. All parties must come together and plan for a future that has steel manufacturing at the heart of the British economy. Decisions taken in the days to come will determine not just the futures of 19,000 workers and their families, across 14 UK sites, but the very success of the UK government’s own economic programme.

Welsh workers within the industry make some of the best steel in the world and have worked hard to deliver for Tata, through thick and thin times. They now, alongside their families and the wider community, deserve the respect and support of the company in return. Workers will feel a grim sense of betrayal by this decision, because they know that given half a chance, the company can make Port Talbot and sites across the UK profitable and successful.

We were extremely disappointed to learn that no UK Government Minister attended the meeting with members of the TATA Board in Mumbai. Steelworkers cannot afford the Government to keep dithering over intervention in this vital UK industry. Ministers must honour their promises to keep the lights over the UK’s steel communities burning.

TATA, as well as the UK and Welsh Government, must also do all in their power to have these vital assets handed back to this country in a shape that allows a serious buyer and a future to emerge. This is the time for the government to say categorically, without hesitation, that these assets will be taken into safe-keeping by the nation because without them our economy will not flourish.  We are already seeing jobs going in the supply chain because of the uncertainty over Tata’s future – our fear is this will snowball if insecurity is allowed to swirl around our steel sector. 

The unity of voices – from business to government – to say that temporary nationalisation is the way forward must not be ignored.  This helped save the Scottish plants.  It has ensured that the Ilva plant in Italy survived – it must be deployed for the rest of the Tata operation.

These plants are profitable, with the best workers producing some of the best quality products in the world.  Every single one of these plants and its workers should be regarded as a national asset and as such it is government’s duty to safeguard them for the nation.

Such is the scale of the matters before us that the Prime Minister must assume charge of the strategy from here on in.  This will send the clear signal to the workforce, the industry and potential buyers that the government is serious and driven about saving this foundation industry.

In addition, the government must act now where the Budget stood silent.  We need energy costs reduced.  Tariffs on cheap imports must rise to the level where they do make an impact – the UK government could do this today.

We have campaigned tirelessly to save our steel alongside our own members and other trade unions. We pledge to continue that fight and leave no stone unturned in our fight for the future of Welsh jobs and the industry as a whole.

Andy Richards is Unite Wales' Regional Secretary.

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