Tata Steel jobs axe is 'devastating' for Port Talbot
PORT Talbot was today slowly coming to terms with the devastating news that 500 jobs are being scrapped at the town's Tata Steel plant.
Inevitably there will be an impact on the local economy. But at the same time there are reasons to believe yesterday's not entirely unexpected announcement may not be as bleak as it seemed.
"It's bad but it could have been worse," said Neath Port Talbot councillor Tony Taylor, who works at the plant. "It certainly isn't as bad as some people thought it would be.
"Obviously I am concerned for the employees directly affected. Hopefully a lot of the job losses will be achieved through natural wastage, early retirement or voluntary redundancy, and redeployment.
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"The actual number of compulsory redundancies should be minimal, if any."
Given the economic situation, said Mr Taylor, Tata had to take a pragmatic view. "The works has been losing a lot of money over the years but nobody has felt any pain during that time.
"We are in a bad time. But if we are going to rebuild Port Talbot and get it back to where it was, we have to plan for the future in a pragmatic way.
"Tata is still investing massively in the plant despite the industry being at its lowest ebb.
"We are in a better condition than most other plants in Wales and we will be ready when the upturn comes."
Tata steel yesterday announced proposals it said were aimed at improving the competitiveness of its UK operations so it could perform successfully in changing markets.
Those proposals included restructuring management and administrative functions, leading to the loss of 500 jobs at Tata Steel's Port Talbot-based production hub.
The UK-wide changes, while involving significant investment in some locations, will also lead to a net loss of 900 jobs, including 580 at Port Talbot and its Llanwern sister plant in Newport.
European operations chief Karl Kohler said the proposals were part of a strategy to turn Tata Steel into an "all weather producer" capable of succeeding in difficult situations.
"These restructuring proposals will help make our business more successful and sustainable," he said.
"But the job losses are regrettable and I know this will be a difficult and unsettling time for the employees and their families affected.
"We will be working with our trade unions and government at a national and local level to ensure we provide them with as much assistance and support as possible."
Mr Kohler said Tata subsidiary UK Steel Enterprise would be looking at how it could provide more support to local steel communities and stimulate job creation.
Tata would strengthen this by providing £650,000 to help create new jobs in affected areas.
"We will do everything we can to reduce the impact of the proposals on employees and, where possible, we will look to achieve job losses through voluntary redundancies," said Mr Kohler.
Community general secretary Michael Leahy said: "We will be seeking an urgent meeting with the company to ensure our principle of no compulsory redundancies is upheld, although we are pleased to see the company has already committed to offering a package of training and support for those affected by these changes.
"Sadly, these potential job losses are symptomatic of the continuing failure of the Government's economic policy and yet another reason why we are calling on the British government to take urgent action to stimulate economic growth and help revive the manufacturing sector."
Taibach councillor John Rogers echoed that sentiment. "Other countries have helped their steel industries in difficult times but this Westminster Government has done nothing," he said. "The Secretary of State for Wales should start using his influence to get a better deal for the energy supply to Tata."
Mr Rogers described the announcement as very sad news for Port Talbot, especially coming so close to Christmas.
"You have to pay tribute to the workforce and to Tata's excellent management and investment," he added.
"When the situation does improve I know the workforce will rise to the challenge and the community will be backing them."
Aberafan Shopping Centre manager Steve Redmore said: "It's devastating for Port Talbot and it's bound to have an impact on the local economy.
"But that is secondary at the moment. Our immediate thoughts are with the workers affected. It must be terrible for them and their families."