Steelworkers demand answers as Sajid Javid visits Port Talbot plant


Hundreds of steelworkers have left the Government in no doubt about their fears over job cuts as they demanded answers during a visit to the country's biggest steel plant by the Business Secretary.

Sajid Javid visited Port Talbot in South Wales after cutting short a business trip to Australia to deal with the shock decision by Tata to sell its loss-making UK assets.

As he left a meeting inside the plant, a group of banner-waving steelworkers asked him what the Government was doing to save the industry.

He said the Government was on their side, adding that steel was "absolutely vital" to the UK's industrial sector.

During a four-minute face-to-face with workers, Mr Javid repeated the Government's contention that everything possible was being done, saying there was interest in Tata's steel portfolio but specific details could not be given because of "commercial reasons".

Hot mill worker Christopher Walters, 48, said: "We all feel like we've been kicked in the guts. We knew that things were looking bad about six to eight months ago so it's a pity that all these pledges of support from the Government and Parliament were not made then.

"We have all come out in force today to show the strength of feeling about it."

Nurses linked arms with steelworkers as they stood outside the blast furnaces.

District nurse Lynne Driscoll said: "This is a close community and we all stand together in times of need - supporting each other. Many of our colleagues have family working in the steelworks.

"The health of our community is already greatly affected by deprivation, so much so that even the threat of closure has a huge impact on the health and wellbeing of workers, their families and the community."

Asked if there were any potential buyers, Mr Javid said it would be wrong for commercial reasons to name anyone expressing interest, but said: "There will most certainly be people.

"We are on your side. The time is there, meetings today have been constructive, but also with Tata management in India, they have been very responsible, they've shown in the past as a group they are a responsible company, they've had to sell things in the past, I take confidence from that and so should you."

Mr Javid said in media interviews that the Government has received confidential information from Tata about its UK assets and is now engaged in trying to find a buyer.

The Business Secretary said he "rushed back" from Australia and described his meeting with managers, workers and union officials in Port Talbot as "productive".

"We have worked really hard with Tata for a long time, making sure we can find a new buyer. Information we got from Tata is confidential."

Mr Javid maintained the Government had been leading efforts in the European Union to impose tariffs on cheap Chinese steel, one of the issues blamed for the current crisis.

"I agree the EU needs to act more quickly," he said.

It has emerged that China has imposed anti-dumping duties on "under-priced" steel from the European Union, Japan and South Korea.

The Chinese ministry of commerce said imports of grain-oriented flat-rolled steel will be charged duties ranging from 14.5% to 46.3%.

The ministry said Chinese producers have suffered "substantial damage" due to improperly under-priced foreign steel.

The Government was attacked for not taking emergency action months ago to head off the jobs crisis now gripping the industry.

Trade group UK Steel said it set out six months ago what needed to be done in the short term but it has not happened.

The Labour Party will post an advert on social media with the message: "The richest get handouts. Steelworkers get sold out."

A spokesman said: "David Cameron has failed our steel industry and failed the UK's manufacturing. It is time he acted in the national interest and protected Britain's steel industry."

German engineering conglomerate ThyssenKrupp has held talks with Tata Steel on combining their continental European steel operations, according to reports.

Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of Community, said: "It is promising that the Business Secretary has taken the time to listen directly to the concerns of steelworkers in Port Talbot.

"His colleagues should remember that this is a national steel crisis. There are thousands of worried families right across the UK who are looking to the Government to give them some hope.

"We do not need more false claims from ministers that they have done all they can for the UK steel industry. This is quite clearly not the case when they are ringleading opposition to Europe imposing higher tariffs on unfairly traded steel."

Mr Javid was handed a Save Our Steel badge as he left Port Talbot.