Low-cost steel from India casts shadow over Port Talbot's future

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Workers at the giant Corus steel plant at Port Talbot were yesterday convinced that they will be first in the firing line when the dreaded word "rationalisation" is eventually used by their new owners.

Employees at the works in south-west Wales demanded assurances that no jobs would be lost in the takeover by the Indian company Tata Steel.

The massive complex, which dominates the town both physically and economically, produces basic steel. That is precisely the commodity which India produces both cheaply and abundantly.

Tony Taylor, a blast furnace hand, said workers were not welcoming the bid with open arms: "We are stepping into the unknown and are filled with trepidation," he said. Mr Taylor, 51, who has worked at the plant for 36 years, said: "I don't think it is feasible that the whole plant will close, but we are worried about a partial closure.

"There have been assurances that Tata will increase pension contributions, but at the moment it is all talk and we want the words turned into action. The only advantage I see from this takeover is the possibility of cheaper raw materials."

The Port Talbot works, once a byword for over-manning, are extremely efficient in European terms. The workforce has slumped to just 3,100 from a peak of 21,000 in the early 1960s.

Mr Taylor estimated that about 12,000 jobs in the locality depended on the steelworks. "We can't afford to lose any more manufacturing jobs," he said.

Another steelworker Bob Rees, 38, said he and his colleagues feared that Tata could switch to bringing in ready-made slabs of steel from Asia.

"This would mean we would merely refine it at Port Talbot. That would lead to hundreds of jobs going and who knows about the long-term future? Let's face it - Tata is a money-making conglomerate whose steel arm is just a small part of its empire."

Philippe Varin, the chief executive of Corus, pointed out that Indian plants could manufacture steel at half the price of that at Port Talbot. He argued that eventually the works would face such competition whether or not Tata took over. He believed the chances of survival would be enhanced by the link-up with the Indian company.

In the short term, the takeover has meant something of a windfall for some steelworkers as the value of their shares has soared.

They took advantage of Corus's "Sharesave" scheme, as part of which they could buy up to £150 worth of shares a month with a "no lose" guarantee.

The shares they bought for as little as 19p each will be worth £4.55 if the takeover goes ahead - a more than 20-fold increase. Some stand to make tens of thousands of pounds.

Additional reporting by Wales News Service