Critical times for the future of UK steel

Critical times for the future of UK steel

Around 1500 steel workers in the UK are set to begin an indefinite strike next month, for the first time in over 40 years.

This comes in response to Tata’s plan to shut down its two blast furnaces at Port Talbot which is said to impact more than 2800 jobs.

This shift is part of Tata’s broader strategy to reduce carbon emissions and align with global environmental standards. The company aims to transition to greener technologies by investing in electric arc furnaces, which are more sustainable when compared with traditional blast furnaces. According to Tata, the existing facilities at Port Talbot are nearing end-of-life and losing around £1 million per day, which is not viable.  

Meanwhile, unions backing the strike, which is set to go ahead after the general election in July, advise that workers fear not only for their jobs, but also for their local communities as well as the future of steel production in Wales. 

International trade issues further complicate the scenario. The global steel market is highly competitive, with significant pressure from imports and changing trade policies. CBAM is a major concern for British Industry, specifically the potential for the UK to become a temporary carbon dumping ground, in view of the UK’s CBAM due to come into force a year after the EU’s version.

The UK’s stance on global trade agreements, especially post-Brexit, will play a crucial role in shaping the future of the steel industry.

The general election is likely to bring clarity on the UK’s future trade policies and its engagement with international partners the hope being that it may be possible to align both the CBAM and ETS schemes with the EU. 

In this context, the triple bottom line, which emphasises environmental sustainability and social responsibility alongside financial performance, is becoming increasingly relevant. Companies are now more aware of their environmental impact and the need for sustainable practices. Tata Steel’s initiative at Port Talbot reflects this broader corporate trend towards the third bottom line. While the transition to greener technologies is essential, it must be balanced with socio-economic considerations, ensuring that the workforce and local communities are supported. 

In conclusion, Tata’s plans at Port Talbot represent a microcosm of the larger challenges and opportunities facing the UK.

The intersection of industrial transformation, political developments, and international trade dynamics will significantly influence the path forward, requiring a delicate balance between sustainability, economic growth, and social equity.

About Jackie Smith, Industrial Technologies Specialist

Jackie holds more than 3 decades of strategic commercial experience within an international steel environment. She has been involved in diverse processes and sectors including steel manufacturing, recycling, energy industry (including oil & gas, gas turbine, nuclear, and renewables) as well as aerospace, automotive, and food processing.

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