British Steel considering cutting up to 1,200 jobs in Scunthorpe

Unions say move would be ‘betrayal’ amid talks with UK government over potential £300m in financial support

British Steel is considering cutting up to 1,200 jobs at its steelworks in Scunthorpe in a move that unions said would be a “betrayal” of workers amid talks with the UK government over a potential £300m in financial support.

Executives at the Chinese-owned company told union leaders they were considering closing coke ovens at the plant and making hundreds more cuts across its operations at a meeting on Wednesday afternoon. The Unite union said up to 1,200 jobs were at risk.

British Steel, which was bought in 2020 by China’s Jingye, has been in talks with the government over support for several months, together with its Indian-owned rival Tata Steel. Both companies – which each run two of the four remaining blast furnaces in the UK – are seeking support to upgrade the furnaces to electric arc furnaces with much lower carbon emissions.

The UK government has offered both companies £300m apiece, although they say the total costs of upgrading the plants could run into the billions of pounds. The support is understood to be tied to retaining jobs at Scunthorpe and at Tata’s Port Talbot steelworks.

Unions had been informed that the future of British Steel’s coke ovens and its 300 jobs were under review, but it could also make between 600 and 900 cuts across the broader operations. The threat of job cuts on that scale will likely prompt renewed warnings the British Steel could close one of the blast furnaces.

British Steel has not started a formal consultation on the job cuts, and it did not outline a timeline in the meeting on Wednesday, according to two sources. Nevertheless, the plan will cast a shadow over the future of the company’s UK operations, which employ about 4,000 people, most of them in Scunthorpe.

The Unite general secretary, Sharon Graham, said: “This proposal is down to a greedy employer and a shambolic government. Unite completely rejects the plans of British Steel’s multibillion-pound Chinese owners to cut over 1,000 jobs at its plant in Scunthorpe.

“Steelworkers are suffering from a catastrophic failure in leadership from both the Jingye Group, who own British Steel, and by the government.”

Community, which represents steel workers, said job cuts could directly endanger workers by giving them little choice but to work longer hours. Alun Davies, Community’s national officer, said he was “extremely concerned” about the plan.

“This move would represent a betrayal of their loyal workforce and [British Steel’s] commitments to invest in the business,” he said. “We believe this would put staff at risk and is completely unworkable.

“British Steel is already putting staff at risk by making them work overtime every single week. Cutting hundreds of jobs in this situation will endanger workers by pushing them to work even longer hours in extreme temperatures.”

The union pledged to fight the plan, and said steelworkers were being failed by both the company and the UK government. British steelmakers are also struggling with energy costs that are higher than those faced by rivals in the EU. Companies and unions have lobbied for more government support for the industry to decarbonise, as well as for a direction for state infrastructure and defence projects to use more UK-produced steel.

Jingye took over British Steel in 2020 after it collapsed and the government was forced to step in to keep it running. Jingye pledged to invest £1.2bn in the plant by the end of the decade, although those plans are not thought to have been carried out.

British Steel did not respond to requests for comment.


Jasper Jolly

The GuardianTramp

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