2,800 Tata steel workers will lose jobs today as blast furnaces cease!

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Steel workers marching to Parliament – they want action to defend jobs

APPROXIMATELY 2,800 employees out of Tata’s 8,000-strong workforce will lose their jobs as Blast Furnace 5 ceases operations today.

Loud noises and large plumes of steam will be visible above the Port Talbot steelworks due to the closure of one of its historic furnaces.

Blast Furnace 5 (BF5), which has been operational since 1959, will be shut down as part of Tata Steel UK’s restructuring efforts. The other furnace at Port Talbot will halt liquid iron production in September. Local residents have been cautioned about the sights and sounds associated with the cooling of BF5.

Earlier this week, engineers began modifying the raw materials fed into the blast furnace to prepare for its decommissioning. Plumes of steam and some whooshing noises were expected ahead of the final tapping of liquid iron on Thursday evening or Friday morning.

When BF5 started operations in May 1959, it produced 11,800 tonnes per week, peaking in 2009 at over 57,000 tonnes weekly. In November 2001, a tragic explosion resulted in the deaths of three steelworkers and severe injuries to twelve others. The explosion, caused by water contacting hot materials in the furnace, lifted the top of the massive structure into the air, releasing tonnes of molten iron. The victims were Stephen Galsworthy, aged 25, Andrew Hutin, 20, and Len Radford, 53.

A £65 million rebuild and subsequent upgrades have enabled BF5 to continue producing liquid iron for Port Talbot’s steelworks until now. Its closure is part of a significant restructuring of Tata Steel UK’s operations. While BF5 will close this week, Blast Furnace 4 is set to shut down in September, ending Port Talbot’s ability to produce liquid iron from ore.

Tata, the largest polluter in Wales, emits approximately two tonnes of carbon dioxide per tonne of steel produced by its blast furnaces. The company plans to construct an electric arc furnace to melt scrap metal and produce steel, with construction commencing in August 2025. This process, which will take several years to complete, will require significantly fewer jobs than the traditional blast furnaces.

Earlier this week, Unite and other unions requested Tata to delay any final decisions on the future of its blast furnaces and steel production until after a potential change in government. Tata declined, stating in a letter to employees on 31 May 2024: ‘Neither the general election nor its outcome has any impact on the timings or our decision to proceed with the winding down of our heavy-end operations (blast furnaces).’

However, on Monday, Unite announced it had cancelled its strike plans after Rajesh Nair, the UK boss of Tata Steel, wrote to the unions over the weekend, offering further discussions regarding future investments at the south Wales site.