STEELWORKERS from Port Talbot have gathered outside the massive Tata steelworks site in a show of support for the industry of the town.
The gathering, at the entrance of the Port Talbot steelworks site on January, 26, came a week after the announcement that thousands of jobs would be lost under new plans by owners Tata.
The plans include the shutting down and dismantling of its two primary steel making blast furnaces in 2024, to be replaced by an electric arc furnace that produces “green” steel.
As a result 2,800 jobs could be axed, as electric arc steel making, which involves recycling steel as opposed to making ‘virgin steel’, does not require as many members of staff.
However, workers, unions residents have said the proposals would essentially leave the town “doomed” in the future, with many in Port Talbot now fearful of how they will pay the bills in the wake of the job losses to come.
Jeffrey Wellington, 52, is a shift electrician in the steelworks, and said it is a place where many generations of families have worked, with the wages from steel making being the life-blood of the area.
He said: “I’ve been here coming up to 35 years, and to be honest it’s all I’ve ever known, it’s all my dad’s ever known and it’s been here forever. Everybody knows someone who works within the steelworks or is associated with it so it’s huge for the town.
“My daughter’s partner works here, and they’ve just taken out a mortgage with a baby so they are worried, very worried. He’s at that age where he needs employment but there’s nothing like this in the local area, so he’d have to look further afield.
“I’m at the age where I don’t want to be travelling too far, but I just feel for the boys who are a lot younger than me really. This feeds the town. The town lives off the steelworks so it’s going to be huge for the Port Talbot area and further afield.
“If they are going to transition to this electric arc furnace, let’s do it slowly and keep the blast furnace going for that period of time until the new furnace comes in, and give people that extra bit of time and incentive to stay.”
Shaun Hughes, 60, is a machinist from Port Talbot who has worked in the steelworks for 44 years. He said: “This is going to have an absolutely massive impact on the town. They talk about 2,800 jobs but you can multiply that by five or six. It’s an impact not just on the local community but the whole South Wales corridor in general.
“Families are already panicking, since this was originally announced last November, and that has not changed one iota. I’ve got children of my own and they are already speaking of leaving the area or going abroad to work, which my wife and myself don’t want to see, but that’s the way this area is going.
“There’s not a lot left for the youngsters, and everyone is talking about people being made redundant but what’s the future for the youngsters, and what are the plans because there isn’t anything around.
“Think about the local valleys as well. The mining industry went in the 1980s, then you had Llanwern and Ebbw Vale shutting, so with that the only option for those people was to come to the steel works. There was a little glimmer of light in the valleys, but that has been distinguished by shutting this because now there isn’t anywhere to go.”
Julie Morris, 60, is from Sandfields and has a number of family members with jobs in the works. She said: “It’s going to be a doomed town. If they take the steelworks away then there’ll be nothing left and that will correspond with everyone in the town. It’s going to diabolical. It’s going to affect the workers, the shops, everybody.
“My son has been here from school and is now 32. He’s got two children and a mortgage so I’m worried sick over him, the same as everybody else. This is a steel town, and for most of the youngsters that have gone in there that’s all they know.”
Carl Walters added: “If this goes it will be a ghost town around here because everything is linked to the steel works. It’s a steel town at the end of the day and everything feeds off that. Nationally it will be a huge blow as well because Britain needs to be able to produce steel, and if we can’t do that who knows what the ramifications could be.”
Former steelworker, Jason Bartlett, of Llanelli, said: “It’s devastating and it would be a completely un-recoverable situation. You can’t walk out of this job in to another job because they just don’t exist in Wales. These are worrying times for people, there’s youngsters with mortgages and young families, just starting out their careers within the steel industry and now all of a sudden they’re being told there is no future for them.
“These are highly-skilled workers, and people who have applied for these jobs wanting a future, just to be told by the end of the year the majority of them won’t be coming to work. We know we’ve got to transition but we need to keep blast furnace four open until the electric arc is switched on.”