On 21 October, the Times reported that British Steel has threatened to cut up to 2000 jobs from its workforce. The paper said the move is a key part of the company’s plans to replace its coal-powered blast furnaces with electric arc furnace technology, which produced “greener” steel.
The switch could unlock new funding for Chinese group Jingye, which has owned British Steel since 2020. That includes up to £300m of taxpayer funding, according to the Times report.
A spokesman for British Steel said the firm was committed to:
providing long-term, skilled and well-paid careers for thousands of employees and many more in our supply chains.
However, he added that the company was “continuing to assess our options”, and that:
As part of our journey to net zero, it is prudent to evaluate different operational scenarios to help us achieve our ambitious goals
The Times noted that no final decision had been made over the possible job losses.
GMB, one of the three unions representing steelworkers in the UK, told Agence France-Presse it doesn’t accept that:
mass job losses are the way to decarbonise the steel industry.
There are a myriad of options available and a fair, just transition for workers must be at the centre of any plan
Meanwhile, a representative for Unite told BBC Radio Tees that the demand for ‘green steel’ should provide an opportunity for a “brighter future” with up to 8000 jobs.
Jingye itself declined to comment.
Steel industry facing further cuts
British Steel is battling losses believed to be running at £30m a month, according to the Mail on Sunday. The cuts would decimate its 4500-strong workforce at its Scunthorpe plant and headquarters in northeast England.
The government has stated that its “commitment to the UK steel sector is clear”. It noted a £500m funding boost to facilitate greener steel production by Tata Steel at its Port Talbot site in South Wales. A spokesperson added:
We continue to work closely with industry, including British Steel, to secure a sustainable and competitive future for the UK steel industry
Despite this, the plant’s owner is still planning to cut around 3000 jobs.
During a visit to Port Talbot on 23 October, Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said he’d had “productive” talks with union leaders about the transition to green steel.
For the benefit of profits
The situation at both British Steel and Tata Steel reflects growing criticism about climate concerns being used to greenwash job cuts. Critics fear that climatological arguments provide a convenient cover for profit-motivated layoffs.
Showing that a green economy could be better for jobs has become an integral part of the campaign against fracking in the UK. The Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union group (CACCTU) produced two extensive reports detailing just such an argument.
As British industries shift to more environmentally friendly methods of production, we must remain vigilant that this doesn’t become simply another excuse to harm workers in the pursuit of corporate greed. When a company chooses to sacrifice its bottom line before its employees in the name of the climate, then we’ll know they’re serious – but don’t go holding your breath.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse
Featured image via Gareth James/Geograph
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