Tata Steel: Port Talbot coke ovens closing amid stability fear

Steel unions say they have known of concerns about the condition of the coke ovens for some time.
Tata Steel: Port Talbot coke ovens closing amid stability fear
Coke OvensTata Steel UK

Tata Steel has announced the coke ovens at its giant plant in south Wales will close on Wednesday over concerns about their “operational stability”.

The Community union called it “a massive blow” for the Port Talbot site.

However, the union’s national officer for steel Alun Davies said his “number one concern” was member’s safety.

About 200 workers are likely to be affected, but at this stage uncertainty remains about their immediate future.

The ovens are used to heat coal to create a hard residue called coke which is then used to fuel blast furnaces.

Steel unions said they had been aware of concerns about the condition of the coke ovens for some time, and previously said they would not oppose an early closure on safety grounds.

But the unions are seeking assurances on job security.

Workers will be required to decommission the coke ovens and there may be the possibility of redeployment to other parts of the operation in the short term.

The coke ovens were scheduled to close in June this year along with blast furnace five under Tata’s proposals for the future of the Port Talbot operation.

Blast furnace five will continue to operate despite the closure, with coke imported from elsewhere.

Mr Davies said the union was working to conclude negotiations on an enhanced redundancy and retention package. 

“Regretfully the coke ovens were always going to close during the transition period, but once the national consultations conclude we will ballot for industrial action should Tata confirm their intention to close blast furnace number four,” he added.

Tata Steel chief executive Rajesh Nair said the condition of the ovens had worsened, making it untenable to keep running them.

“The performance of the coke ovens has been deteriorating over many months, despite some Herculean efforts by the teams there,” he added.

Port Talbot steelworks from Aberavon beach

Getty Images

He added that the company would work with the coke ovens workforce “to understand their aspirations in alignment with our ongoing wider consultation programme”.

Nearly 2,000 redundancies are planned at the Port Talbot because Tata plans to close both blast furnaces by the end of the year and build an electric arc furnace (EAF) by 2027.

Three trades unions with members working at the plant are opposing Tata’s plans and urging the company to keep one blast furnace running while the EAF is built.

A consultation is ongoing.

Source: bbc.co.uk

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