Workers at steel giant Corus were tonight braced for thousands of job losses in the face of a huge downturn in demand and a slump in orders.
The Indian-owned firm, which employs 24,000 workers in the UK, declined to comment on speculation that it was planning to cut up to 3,500 jobs from its global workforce of 42,000.
But there was speculation that between 2,000 and 2,500 jobs are about to be axed in the UK with an announcement coming in the next few days, possibly as early as tomorrow.
Union leaders were due to meet the company on Wednesday but now believe it will be brought forward.
It is understood that the company will not close any of its plants, but job losses on such a scale will be a huge blow to British manufacturing which has already been battered by the recession.
The Anglo-Dutch company has steelmaking factories at Port Talbot, Scunthorpe and Teesside as well as steel processing operations in other parts of the UK.
It is believed that the company had been planning to restructure the business but the severity of the crisis which has hit the world steel industry means Corus has to act quickly.
Steel prices, which had been driven to record highs by demand from China, have more than halved in the last year.
Denis McShane, Labour MP for Rotherham, where Corus has a factory, said he had been in contact with the company this weekend urging that production capacity is maintained so that when demand picks up the UK will remain a force in steelmaking.
"The government have found billions for the banks and must do what it takes to support steel workers and their families as we go through this global recession.
Keith Hazelwood, national officer of the GMB Union said unions would be disappointed if the company had already made decisions about job losses without consulting unions.
Community, which also represents steel workers said tonight it was expecting an imminent announcement from Corus while Terry Pye, national officer of Unite said: "We have a meeting scheduled with Corus for Wednesday but given the current speculation we are ready and willing to meet the company at any time to discuss measures to keep compulsory redundancies to an absolute minimum."