Critics suggest Britain has been reluctant to tackle the issue at a time when it looks to step up trade with China
LONDON—Manufacturer Tata Steel on Jan. 18 announced it will cut 1,050 jobs in Britain as part of cost-savings plans to compete against cheap Chinese imports, raising the calls for government intervention to protect struggling industries.
The layoffs, largely in Wales, come just months after an earlier round of cuts in the industry, including 1,200 slashed by Tata in October. Another company, Sahaviriya Steel Industries, announced the closure of its Redcar plant last fall with the loss of 2,200 jobs while Caparo Industries went into administration, putting more jobs at risk.
“We need the European Commission to accelerate its response to unfairly traded imports and increase the robustness of its actions,” said Karl Koehler, chief executive of Tata Steel’s European operations. “Not doing so threatens the future of the entire European steel industry.”
The British government has been under pressure to raise the issue of China selling steel at a loss on world markets. The oversupply of steel has depressed prices, and manufacturers want anti-dumping duties to be imposed.
Prime Minister David Cameron described the layoffs as “sad news,” and has promised to work with local communities to lessen the blow.
“We’ll continue to work with them and I want to have a strong British steel industry at the heart of our important manufacturing base,” he said.
Though Cameron argued the government had taken action, his critics suggest Britain has been reluctant to take on China at a time when so many businesses in the country want to step up trade. Unions have accused the government of failing to deliver on promises to help.
“This industry needs meaningful action from the U.K. government, which up to now has been characterized by fast talking but slow delivery, despite persistent warnings from (the union) that delays in implementing support for steel would have an impact on jobs,” said Roy Rickhuss, the general secretary of the Community union.
He accused the government of being “a cheerleader for China,” and demanded a commitment to steel-making in the UK.
Alan Coombs, a Port Talbot steelworker and president of the union, said the cuts would hurt the entire Welsh area around the plant in Port Talbot.
“Port Talbot is a town built on steel—my father and grandfathers worked here—but we risk losing these jobs forever without more action from government to create a level playing field on which we can compete,” he said. “Thousands of other families here in Port Talbot rely on the steelworks, it is a source of pride and employment for our town.”