Karl Koehler: Tata Steel chief angry at EU’s failure to protect against cheap imports

Indian conglomerate lays off more than 1,000 workers as boss berates UK policymakers

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The Independent Online

Tata’s most senior boss in Europe has opened fire on EU politicians after the steel maker was forced to lay off a further 1,050 workers to protect against cheap Chinese imports.

Karl Koehler, who is chief executive of the Indian’s conglomerate’s European arm, said EU and UK policymakers were not doing enough to stem a glut of Chinese imports flooding the market. Mr Koehler added that the UK government should do more to support the beleaguered sector by overhauling business rates and energy incentives: “We need the European Commission to accelerate its response to unfairly traded imports and increase the robustness of its actions. Not doing so threatens the future of the entire European steel industry.” 

Tata’s steel plant in Port Talbot, which has been churning out metal since 1901, will bear the brunt of the losses, with 750 job losses at its coiling unit. The division, known as Strip Products, makes strips of steel for products such as JCB tractors and bathtubs. 

A further 200 jobs in support functions will go, as will 100 roles at mills in Hartlepool, Corby and Trostre.

Gareth Stace, the director of the trade body UK Steel, said: “This is a site of critical importance to our national industrial infrastructure.

“The job cuts reinforce everything we have been saying about the importance of swift action by all involved to tackle the problems facing our steel industry. We have been dealing for some time with a toxic cocktail of conditions, from Chinese dumping of steel to the high cost of energy, and have warned that a strong and rapid response in the UK, and in Brussels, is required.”

The body has pressed the Government to overhaul UK business rates, to bring them into line with France and Germany. This would involve removing plant and machinery from business rate calculations, which drive up costs if companies add extra kit to their plants and has been dubbed a tax on investment. 

Britain’s steel industry is in crisis due to a flood of cheaper Chinese steel, which is driving down global prices. 

Chinese steel makers, which are 70 per cent owned by the state, produced 440 million tonnes more steel than it consumed last year, leading to higher levels of exports.  

Tata’s cull is the latest round of redundancies in the UK steel industry.

The Redcar steel plant, controlled by the Thai-based group SSI, was the first major collapse last September, with the loss of 2,200 jobs. 

Tata then cut 1,200 jobs in October at sites in Scunthorpe, north Lincolnshire and Scotland, while downstream producer Caparo Industries also partly went into administration days later. There were about 30,000 steel workers in the industry last year but this has fallen by more than 6,000 over the past six months.

Tata, which bought British Steel in 2006 to become Europe’s second biggest  steel maker, entered talks with the private equity firm Greybull Capital about selling off some of its plants in December. A sale would include Tata’s plant in Scunthorpe – where it made job cuts last year – plus mills in Teesside and France.