LONDON: Indian steel giant Tata Steel plans to sell its British assets in a move that puts thousands of jobs in doubt and strikes a deep blow to Britain’s crisis-hit steel industry.
Tata said in a statement that trading conditions had “rapidly deteriorated” in Britain and Europe due to a global oversupply of steel, imports into Europe, high costs and currency volatility.
“These factors are likely to continue into the future and have significantly impacted the long term competitive position of the UK operations,” the statement read.
The company would “explore all options for portfolio restructuring including the potential divestment of Tata Steel UK, in whole or in parts”, it said.
Union representatives had traveled to Mumbai as a company board meeting was held to try to convince Tata to invest in the plants, which employ thousands in England and Wales.
Politician Leanne Wood, leader of Welsh party Plaid Cymru, described the news as “devastating” and called for the Welsh regional assembly to be recalled from its Easter break to respond to the crisis.
Tata had previously announced a series of job cuts at its Port Talbot site in Wales, where it employs 4,000 people, with another 3,000 employed as contractors and temporary workers.
A joint statement from the British government and the Welsh regional government said they would work with unions to maintain the steel industry.
“This is a difficult time for workers in Port Talbot and across the UK,” the statement read.
“Both the UK and Welsh governments are working tirelessly to look at all viable options to keep a strong British steel industry at the heart of our manufacturing base.”
Unions have accused China of killing off British industry by “dumping” steel on the market at prices that cannot be competed with.
Tata said it had poured money into the UK businesses and suffered “asset impairment” of over £2 billion ($2.8 billion, 2.5 billion euros) in the last five years.
Opposition Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn urged David Cameron’s Conservative government to act.
“The government must intervene immediately to protect UK jobs and British manufacturing,” Corbyn said.
Unions criticized the government for not sending a minister to India to lobby for the plants to be kept open.
“This is a very dark day for the proud communities and a proud industry which is now on the verge of extinction in this country,” said Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite.
“This is absolutely devastating news for all our members, their families and the local communities,” said Dave Hulse, national officer of the GMB union.
“Tata has let the whole of the UK steel industry down.”