(Title Image: BBC Wales)
With news that Tata plans to cut 3,000 jobs from its European steel division by March 2021, AMs had an opportunity yesterday to quiz the Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South).
UK Government needs to step up to the plate
The Minister said two-thirds of the expected job losses will be “office-based”, but the direct implications for the Welsh steel industry were as of yet unknown.
“In terms of job losses in Wales, we will do everything that we can to support those affected, and our ReAct programme stands ready to provide assistance to workers across the Welsh Tata Steel sites, including co-ordinated support from local partners. The Welsh Government remains committed to working with the company and trade unions to secure a long-term future for steel making in Wales.”
– Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates
He added that the global steel industry continues to endure serious challenges including over-production, slowing sales and rising costs of raw materials and energy. While the Welsh Government has offered “steadfast support” for the steel industry through various investment packages, it was now time for the UK Government to do the same.
In light of that last comment, the Shadow Economy Minister, Russell George AM (Con, Montgomery), hoped that the cross-party consensus in support of steel won’t be lost during an election. He called for greater support for steel innovation to enable zero-carbon steel production and for more Welsh-sourced steel to be used in infrastructure projects.
Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) raised union concerns that Tata were putting “all their eggs in one basket (merger with Thyssenkrupp, which was blocked by the EU Commission)” and given the amount of support the Welsh Government has offered for training etc. he hoped those jobs would be safe.
Caroline Jones AM (BXP, South Wales West) laid the blame at EU bureaucracy, but was told that tarrifs under a “No Deal Brexit” would cause even bigger problems.
“…when the joint venture was put on hold Tata Steel’s chief financial officer said then that all options would be explored in relation to the EU business, so what were all those options? I certainly don’t know what they are. For example, has a steelworkers co-operative been thought about? In Mondragon, the biggest co-operative of its kind in the world, they do have an interest in steel, and would this not be something that we could consider here in Wales so that the steelworkers don’t feel as disenfranchised as they currently do?”
– Bethan Sayed AM (Plaid, South Wales West)
Causing more uncertainty for steelworkers
David Rees AM (Lab, Aberavon) said that if 3,000 jobs are expected to go across Europe and a third of those fell on the UK, it could mean as many as 1,000 job losses and most of those would likely fall on Wales where most of Tata’s UK operations are. He compared what steelworkers have had to go through to a rollercoaster – crisis, then repreive, then another crisis.
“….it’s unlikely to know where those job losses will fall and we won’t know the implementation until 2021….is going to add more uncertainty for those families and to those steelworkers, as they’ll go into work every day thinking to themselves that there might not be a job for them in 12 months time.”
– David Rees AM
Jack Sargeant AM (Lab, Alyn & Deeside) said there was a sense of neglect by the UK Government for having not held a steel council meeting for 18 months; workers had to be sent a message that those who govern them support them.
There was a smidgen of positive news on the steel front.
During First Minister’s Questions, Delyth Jewell AM (Plaid, South Wales East) said she understood there were two parties interested in buying the under-threat Orb electrical steelworks in Newport. She also welcomed Welsh Government discussions with the Community union on developing a long-term strategy for the plant.
The Health Minister (who was taking FMQs) said that while a summary proposal has been prepared for the Orb works, he expressed frustration at the lack of UK Government action.
John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East) raised the matter again and the Economy Minister added that while Tata are considering redeployment of workers, enough time is needed to develop possible takeover bids and alternatives; upgrading the Orb works into a site capable of producing steel for the electric vehicle industry is estimated to cost £30-50million.