Tata's Port Talbot steelworks set to be shutdown early due to Unite strikes

Multinational conglomerate Tata is set to shut the Port Talbot steelworks earlier than first announced over strike plans.

The company has said it will bring the final closure date to 7 July, from September, as Unite members at the steel plant were due to strike on 8 July.

Cutting emissions

One of the steel blast furnaces is to close at the end of this month in a push to reduce carbon emissions at what is the UK's single largest source of CO2.

But that second closure looks set to take place next month, quickening the end of the plant and the loss of 2,800 jobs - 2,500 in the next year, a further 300 in three years.

It comes despite £500m of taxpayer cash to support the site's transition to cheaper, greener steel production to cut emissions.

The previous fossil-fuel-powered blast furnaces are to be replaced by a single electric arc furnace.

Political intervention

Labour had pleaded with the company to hold fire on any closures before a new government is elected on 4 July.

Senior Labour figures including shadow Welsh secretary Jo Stevens had urged Tata to wait for a possible Labour government so fresh talks could take place.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: "Unite is fighting for the future of the steel industry. We have secured serious investment from Labour to safeguard jobs."

Ms Graham described Tata's move as being the "latest In a long line of threats that won't deter us".

"The Unite campaign is not about selling jobs, it's about securing the long-term future of steel making in this country for thousands of workers in Port Talbot and South Wales. We call on the real decision-makers in Mumbai to take hold of this dispute, sit down, negotiate and realise that the investment secured will be good for the company and workers."

The GMB union also voiced its support, saying "Tata must step back from this irreversible decision and safeguard steelmaking assets. There's a general election in days that could change so much".

A Tata Steel spokesperson said Unite's strike announcement was made unilaterally and it is "unfortunately forced to commence legal action to challenge the validity of Unite's ballot".

"In the coming days, if we cannot be certain that we are able to continue to safely operate our assets in a stable fashion through the period of strike action, we will not have any choice but to pause or stop heavy end operations (including both blast furnaces) on the Port Talbot site.

"That is not a decision we would take lightly, and we recognise that it would prove extremely costly and disruptive throughout the supply chain, but the safety of people on or around our sites will always take priority over everything else.

"The company again calls for Unite to withdraw its industrial action and join Community and GMB unions in giving consideration to the company's proposed memorandum of understanding, which puts forward a wide-ranging proposal including generous employee support packages, training and skills development."

Wales first minister Vaughan Gething said: "We will not support the closure of both furnaces.

"This will cause huge anxiety for the workforce, their families and the community. Urgent and good faith negotiations are required to ensure safety on site and avoid a severe and lasting impact on Port Talbot, Wales and the UK."