Union slams jobs deal ‘cruel fantasy’

The UK’s main steel union has dismissed as ‘cruel fantasy’ the offer of 4,000 telecom jobs for workers due to be made redundant by troubled steelmaker Corus.

Michael Leahy, general secretary of the ISTC, said a plan hatched between its fellow union the AEEU, the government and EXi Telecom, was a cynical attempt to divert attention from Corus’s ‘destruction of the steel industry’.

‘It is cruel to suggest that 4,000 steelworkers will get a job for this. That’s a fantasy. How a company with only 1,500 workers and a turnover of only £40m could take on another 4,000 workers seems to me to be far fetched,’ said Leahy.

The surprise announcement of the deal came on the morning both unions were to meet with Corus to discuss possible rescue packages to minimise job losses at the company’s plants across the UK.

The Anglo-Dutch steelmaker said earlier this month that more than 6,000 workers would be made redundant and its Ebbw Vale plant in South Wales would close.However it emerged on Wednesday that the AEEU, the DTI and EXi had been in secret negotiations over a package to provide cable and fibre optic installation work for 4,000.

With Corus’s approval and financial support from the department for education and employment, EXi would undertake training at Corus plants during the redundancy notice period. However, workers would have to compete for vacancies with jobless people from other sectors of industry.

A spokesman for EXi said the company would be able to offer 4,000 jobs over the next two years.

After the meeting with unions Corus said it had agreed to continue discussions at a local level. Sir Bran Moffatt, Corus’s acting chief executive, was to attend a meeting of the trade and industry select committee on the steel industry on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, steelworkers facing redundancy at the Ebbw vale plant greeted the announcement with scepticism and said they were unlikely to support a national strike to save their jobs.

Phil Hooper, who works at the plant, said his colleagues believe there is little point in striking.

‘Sir Brian Moffatt isn’t going to change his mind. The boys feel they might lose out in the redundancies if they strike. Moffatt is just not for moving — he’d just close Ebbw Vale now,’ Hooper told The Engineer.

Allan Brown of the AEEU at Corus’s other South Wales plant, Llanwern, where 1,340 jobs are to go, said there were no plans for industrial action.

A national steel strike, hinted at by ISTC general secretary Michael Leahy, could prove risky for the unions.

James Fletcher of Credit Suisse First Boston said disruption would mean more job losses.

‘It would be catastrophic. We estimated the company had a £400m loss last year, and strikes will only exacerbate the situation and put more jobs at risk.’Corus could face more problems elsewhere, as the Dutch steel union FNV has confirmed its readiness to vote for industrial action if Welsh steel orders are shifted to Dutch plants.