United Kingdom steel jobs safe after multinational commits to plants

"The company and trade unions have also agreed on the principle that subject to the structural de-risking and de-linking of the British Steel Pension Scheme fund from the business, Tata Steel UK will continue the existing blast furnace configuration in Port Talbot until 2021".

A number of "significant" measures include keeping two blast furnaces at the South Wales plant for five years, a commitment to seek to avoid compulsory redundancies for a similar period, a 10-year investment plan of £1 billion and consultation on replacing the pension with a defined benefit scheme.

Unions said the commitments on jobs, production and investment were welcome, although the pension proposal was "worrying".

The future of the plant and others around the United Kingdom had been in doubt since March when Tata Steel, based in India, announced plans to sell its United Kingdom operations.

In return however, Tata, which employs some 4,000 people at the Welsh plant and 11,000 in the United Kingdom as a whole, wants to close employees' costly final salary pension scheme to future accruals and replace it with a defined contribution scheme.

Over the summer, Tata announced it was talking to Germany's Thyssenkrupp about a potential joint venture in Europe and effectively halted the sale of its British businesses.

However, last week it was claimed the company could close of one of the blast furnaces at Port Talbot to save money irrespective of merger plans.

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Officials from Community, Unite and the GMB unions will discuss proposals with representatives from Tata plants across the country.

The unions added that, after meeting with company executives at the Port Talbot facility, the latest proposals were "welcome".

The news followed a breakthrough on jobs and investment on Wednesday aimed at securing Tata's United Kingdom business following months of uncertainty.

Professor Dave Worsley, research director at Swansea University's College of Engineering, said he thinks those efforts made a difference to Tata.

"Tata has put a lot on the table in terms of investment and it is not clear what would happen to those commitments if this pensions deal was voted down", says the BBC.

"Today's news is a step forward, but the underlying challenges of illegal Chinese dumping, uncompetitive energy prices, inadequate procurement policies and the government's failure to come forward with a proper industrial strategy for steel still remain", said Stephen Kinnock, a lawmaker for the area.

A spokesperson for the Pensions Regulator said: "We note the announcement from Tata Steel and look forward to seeing more detail from them regarding any proposal for the British Steel pension scheme". "The U.K. steel industry supports our whole manufacturing sector and it is vitally important that the future of that industry is secured for generations to come".

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