Friday, June 21, 2024

Tata Steel: Workers leaving Port Talbot as 2,000 job cuts loom – BBC News

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Image caption, Almost 2,000 jobs are under threat at the Port Talbot steelworks

  • Author, Ben Price
  • Role, BBC News

Looming mass job cuts at the UK’s largest steel plant in Port Talbot are forcing workers to look for employment outside Wales.

Hinkley Point nuclear power station in Somerset is one of the sites which is attracting steelworks contractors.

There is concern that the loss of almost 2,000 jobs, as well as many contractor and supply chain roles, could have a “profound effect” on community life as families consider moving from the area.

Aberavon Harlequins is one of several local rugby clubs fearing an exodus of workers will hit its future.

Image caption, More than half of the Aberavon Harlequins team either work in the steelworks or have jobs connected to the site

Harlequins player Jon Bamsey said he knew of people “of all ages trying to find jobs within a 20 or 30 mile radius”.

“It’s going to be difficult. It’s going to force people to Bristol, mid Wales, Fishguard, if not further afield. There are a lot of colleagues who are going down to Hinkley Point in Somerset.”

The 31-year-old electrical engineer added: “It’s going to have a profound effect on the community because of the exodus of people going further afield to look for jobs to support their family.”

Daniel Mainwaring, who used to work at the steelworks as a contractor, moved to Hinkley Point a few years ago, and said he was aware of other contractors looking to join him in Somerset.

“I know of some mechanical fitters and welders looking to come down here,” he said.

Another Quins player, Joshua Pugh, 33, lost his job of 14 years when the steelworks’ Morfa coke ovens were forced to close in March due to “operational safety” concerns, according to Tata Steel.

Mr Pugh is part of a team responsible for decommissioning the coke ovens, but he expects his time at the works to be over later this year.

Image caption, Joshua Pugh says the rugby club is an escape from the dark cloud of job cuts

As part of their offer for employees affected by Tata’s restructuring programme, workers have the chance to join a retraining scheme to help them find a new job.

But Mr Pugh said he cannot afford to take a much lower wage during any retraining period.

“I’ve got an 11-week-old baby – I can’t do a three-year apprenticeship – I haven’t got the money to [fall] back on,” he said.

He said he is also worried about how the job cuts will affect the future of his local club.

“Are you going to see the same boys you see every day? Are they going to move out of Port Talbot or Wales even just to find regular work?” he said.

“It’s going to be huge. If we lose five or six boys of the rugby team it could hit us, and there are [other] local rugby clubs in exactly the same position because everybody around here works in the steelworks.”

Image caption, Steelworker Cassius Walker-Hunt, who has opened a new business in Port Talbot, remains positive about the town’s future

Although many steelworkers could be forced out of the town to find work, others have chosen to stay.

Cassius Walker-Hunt, who works in the blast furnace, has recently opened a new coffee shop in Port Talbot.

“I feel sad, emotional because there are a lot of families who are going to struggle.

“I’ve opened a cafe because nearly two thousand people are going to be out of work at the same time, so I’m just trying to get ahead,” Cassius said.

An eager Aberavon Harlequins supporter, Lisa Beaton, 51, has family members who play for the club and have jobs in the steelworks.

“The whole town will be devastated,” she said.

“It’ll affect livelihoods, people with children, and mortgages.”

Image caption, Phil Murphy says there could be a lot of hurt for some families, but the town has a supportive community

Phil Murphy, whose youngest son plays for Aberavon Harlequins under-11s, hopes to keep his job with Tata Steel’s projects team during the construction of an electric arc furnace, which is part of the company’s decarbonisation plan.

With many club members linked to the steelworks, Aberavon Harlequins, like other sports teams across the town have been visible in their support of workers and their unions in recent months.

The team’s vice-chair Andrew Dacey said: “The general mood is one of disappointment. To be honest, we don’t really speak about it a lot. It’s like a dark cloud looming in the background at the moment.

“We’ve gone on a few marches as players and committee men. I’ve spoken to some of the unions’ hierarchy to say if they go for industrial action, we’ll support them.”

Community, which represents the largest number of employees, said 85% of those who voted backed industrial action.

Unite also has a mandate for industrial action but the GMB is still balloting members.

Tata Steel plans to close both blast furnaces in Port Talbot by the end of September. The company said it was losing more than £1m a day at the existing operation in south Wales.

A new £1.25bn electric arc furnace, which melts scrap steel, will begin construction in Port Talbot in summer 2025.

A Tata spokesperson said it has put forward an extensive offer that includes an enhanced employee support package and a generous proposal for a skills and retraining scheme.

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