Hundreds of steelworkers marched through Scunthorpe in northeast England on Tuesday to protest against Tata Steel’s planned job cuts and restructuring, calling on the government to do more to help the beleaguered steel sector.
Nearly 4,000 UK steel jobs were lost in October alone – equivalent to about one fifth of the sector’s workforce – as Tata Steel, SSI UK and Caparo Industries buckled under pressure from decade-low steel prices.
Tata Steel, the UK’s largest steelmaker, said last month it will cut some 1,200 jobs in Scunthorpe and Scotland. Last week, it said it will press ahead with restructuring and will “look at all options” for its European steel business.
The steelmaker is trying to sell its loss-making long products unit, with press reports quoting the company’s Europe Chief Executive Karl Koehler as saying that the business has no future within Tata Steel beyond the end of this financial year.
“Tata Steel needs to show that it will be a responsible seller of the business and that it won’t just abandon the steelworkers of Scunthorpe and the rest of its Long Products business,” said Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of the trade union Community, said after the march.
A Tata Steel spokesman declined to comment on the press reports, saying only that the company is “still assessing all strategic options” for the business.
Nic Dakin, opposition Labour MP for Scunthorpe, who attended the march, told the BBC: “This is more than about just steelworkers jobs, its about the future of this area, this community and this economy.”
It is estimated that for every steel sector job lost, three or four jobs are lost in related sectors, and UK steelworkers fear towns such as Scunthorpe will wither without immediate and concrete government action.
EU economy and industry ministers met in Brussels on Monday to address the steel sector crisis, but failed to agree on concrete measures, particularly regarding cheap Chinese steel imports.
China produces about half the world’s 1.6 billion tonnes of steel, and is expected to export a record 100 million tonnes this year as its steel demand wanes due to a growth slowdown.
Global steelmakers pin much of the blame for plunging steel prices on what they see as Chinese steel “dumping”, though the world market is plagued by over-capacity well beyond China.
Tata Steel has cut thousands of jobs since it bought Anglo-Dutch producer Corus in 2007.