Britain’s struggling steel industry was at the centre of more drama today amid calls for an emergency EU meeting.
Business Secretary Sajid Javid wants international talks on the industry and unfair trade practices.
On the day that the ailing industry was highlighted at a committee of MPs, chaired by Hartlepool MP Iain Wright, Mr Javid said: “I want to see steel top of the EU agenda. We cannot stand by while the steel industry across Europe, not just in the UK, faces such unprecedented challenges.”
Meanwhile Gareth Stace, director of trade body UK Steel, gave evidence to the Business Select committee and said: “If we were a patient on an operating table, we are bleeding very quickly. And we are likely to die on that table.”
Mr Javid said he recognised the costs the regulations could have, so he was working with businesses to agree a “flexible” way forward that does not damage competitiveness.
Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of the Community trade union, said the current crisis in the industry seemed to be “out of control”.
“We don’t seem able to find a solution. We can’t say we will change a working practice, or work more flexibly. It is not enough.”
Asked about the impact of the summit, he replied: “It is sad it came to a crisis to make people sit up and take notice. We have been making these points for a long time.”
Thousands of job cuts have been announced in recent weeks by Tata Steel and SSI in Redcar, Scunthorpe and Scotland, with cheap imports and high energy costs being blamed. Further losses are threatened at steel processing giant Caparo Industries, which has a site in Hartlepool and which has gone into administration.
Steel workers will lobby MPs today as part of growing demands for Government action.
Workers from steel communities in the Tees Valley, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, the West Midlands and south Wales were due to travel to Parliament ahead of an opposition day debate on the wave of job losses in the sector.
Unite assistant general secretary Tony Burke said: “The message from steelworkers and their communities to the Government is clear. Step in and support the industry to save our steel before it’s too late.
“We have already seen the consequences of the Government’s failure to act on Teesside. Instead of intervening to keep the coke ovens burning at Redcar, ministers sat on their hands and allowed a key industrial asset to close forever taking with it the livelihoods of thousands of people.
“The approach by ministers so far has been to deal with the symptoms of the steel crisis, when what steel and manufacturing communities want is action that secures UK steelmaking and secures their futures.”
Mr Rickhuss added: “Our message this week remains a loud and clear appeal to the Government to save our steel. We have already seen thousands of jobs go in Redcar, now thousands more are on the line in Scunthorpe, South Yorkshire, Lanarkshire and within Caparo sites across the UK.
“The Government still needs to give a sign to steel producers that this vital foundation industry has a future.”
Mr Javid added: “There are no straightforward solutions to the complex global challenges but the UK government wants to work with the EU and our European partners to do all we can to support our steel industry.”