The steel unions’ hard-won battle to persuade Corus to retrain some of the 6,000 workers due to be laid off has done little to lift the anxiety and frustration at the company’s UK plants this week.
Steelworkers reacted angrily on Tuesday to the latest deal. General secretary of the ISTC Mike Leahy was heckled outside Corus offices when he announced the company had agreed to set up a working party to report on a training package in one month’s time.
Crane driver Mick Mannion, a member of the ISTC national executive, said members were frustrated at the lack of a clear plan for themselves and their families. ‘God knows what the latest agreement actually means. I hope it does not come to industrial action. Nobody wants industrial action, but that doesn’t mean it will not happen,’ he said.
Alan Brown, AEEU representative at Corus’ Llanwern plant where many of the 6,000 redundancies will occur was surprised that the joint statement issued by the union leadership and Corus was not a clear response to the proposals contained in the national rescue plan previously backed by government.
‘It’s not saying whether or not our proposals were successful. It’s certainly unclear at this time,’ Brown said.
The statement issued on Tuesday said both the unions and the troubled Anglo-Dutch steelmaker would set up a working party with the DTI to explore options for a training programme, funded by the unions, government, and the European Union social fund.
It will consider the number of workers that require training for new jobs, when that training will take place, and the cost which is estimated to be £90m.
The figure is how much the unions believe it would cost to retrain all the Corus workers currently facing redundancy. The aim is to use retraining to keep workers in their jobs long enough for the steel market to improve. This would help Corus downsize its redundancy programme and keep plants open.
The proposal for the plant in Teeside, for example, involves 230 workers in training and 90 in work over the next 12 months. However none of this was agreed on Tuesday and Corus said it would press ahead with redundancies.
Nevertheless, Leahy and AEEU national organiser Bob Shannon were upbeat about the outcome. Leahy said: ‘It was a very productive meeting. We asked Corus to reconsider their position, and we are setting up a working party to look at the proposed training package. We are encouraged by their response and will be coming back in a month’.
Shannon insisted that progress had been made. ‘Corus has chosen partnership today. We feel that at long last we have made some progress. The atmosphere has changed. Corus has realised that if they want to do business they need to understand the social needs of the workforce.’
Corus has agreed only to discuss the specifics of the training package. The company was adamant that its plans had not changed and that steel production at Llanwern was still to close in September.
A company spokesman said that as far as Corus was concerned the training package to be discussed was simply a government-supported route to easing the plight of those that are to be made redundant anyway.
The stock market has already discounted the job losses and reduction in output in the company’s share price. Credit Lyonnais Securities steel analyst Ken Hughes told The Engineer: ‘The job losses are a given. Corus has said that is what it’s going to do. The market took that on board a while ago.’
Until mid May, when the 90 day consultation period required by law expires, the company has said it is ready to discuss local solutions to the redundancies. But all the proposal presented so far have been rejected by Corus’ management as economically not viable.
British unions have gained support from Dutch colleagues, who have agreed not to work on any orders relocated to their plants from the UK.