BUSINESS leaders fear more job losses could are in the pipeline after Tata Steel axed 90 workers at a Hartlepool mill.
The job losses at Tata’s Brenda Road 42-inch mill were part of 900 the firm is axeing across the country.
The blow came after a drop in orders – but bosses hope the situation should improve in the second half of next year.
But business leaders fear it is the “tip of the iceberg” and predict more job losses could follow.
Town MP Iain Wright said the announcement was “bad news on top of bleak news” in a town with 4,694 on the dole queue.
Latest figures show unemployment in Hartlepool has gone up 3.1 per cent within a month.
There were 4,694 jobless people in the town last month compared to 4,550 in September.
Now comes the latest blow at the Hartlepool mill where 611 people work, with 304 of them at the 42 inch mill.
Hartlepool Business Forum co-ordinator John Megson said : “That’s 90 families affected. And in the current economic climate, they are going to be difficult jobs to replace.”
Town Mayor Stuart Drummond said: “This is quite worrying for everyone involved. It will come as a blow.”
The Hartlepool 42 inch mill is currently finishing a huge order for the Gulf of Mexico, but after that, there’s only limited new orders for the mill beyond February next year.
Company bosses say the cutbacks only affect the 42-inch mill and not the 20 inch or 84 inch tube mills which are also on the Brenda Road site.
They say the 42-inch mill is project-based. It supplies large quantities of pipes to only a few customers at a time.
But that means it operates with a manning system which is “responsive to changing market conditions,” said the company.
Mr Megson asked: “Is 90 jobs just the tip of the iceberg? If they don’t get further orders come February, will there be more redundancies? That is the last thing we want.”
Remco Blaauw, managing director of Tubes at Tata Steel, said every effort was being made to secure new orders but there wasn’t enough demand to maintain current employee levels.
He predicted a recovery in the second half of 2013 but he added: “This is dependent upon new investment by oil and gas companies worldwide.”
He said the company’s priority in the next few weeks would be to “help our employees through this difficult process and offer them the advice and support they need during these uncertain times.”
Hartlepool’s bleak news was reflected in other parts of the country. Tata is cutting 900 UK jobs, including 500 at the Port Talbot plant in South Wales, 155 in Yorkshire, and 120 in the Midlands.
Michael Leahy, general secretary of the Community trade union, said: “This news will be of great concern to many of our members and their families.
“We will be seeking an urgent meeting with the company to ensure our principle of no compulsory redundancies is upheld, although we are pleased to see the company has already committed to offering a package of training and support for those affected by these changes.”
Indian-owned Tata Steel also announced it will re-start one of two blast furnaces at Port Talbot in the first quarter of next year as part of a £250m investment programme.
Karl Kohler, chief executive of Tata Steel’s European operations, said: “Today’s proposals are part of a strategy to transform ourselves into an all-weather steel producer, capable of succeeding in difficult economic conditions.”