Strikes at Tata's Port Talbot steelworks called off after change in closure date

A planned strike at the Port Talbot steelworks has been suspended after the Unite union said new investment was proposed.

Unite is suspending its industrial action, it said, after the news on Thursday that the Indian conglomerate owner, Tata, would, in response, close the site earlier than first announced.

Talks throughout the weekend yielded a "significant development" in the form of an agreement from Tata to discuss future investment and not just redundancies, the union said.

The closure date is now 7 July, the day before the previously planned strike and roughly two months before the September timeline originally announced to close the final blast furnace in which steel is made.

Up to 2,800 jobs are to be lost - 2,500 in the next year, and a further 300 in three years - despite a £500m taxpayer cash injection to support the site's transition to cheaper, greener steel production to cut emissions.

The first steel blast furnace was due to close at the end of June in a push to reduce carbon emissions at what is the UK's single largest source of CO2.

The previous fossil-fuel-powered blast furnaces are being replaced by a single electric arc furnace.

Union response

Unite members were striking in protest against job losses and the effects on the local community.

The early closure decision by Tata was last week described as being the "latest In a long line of threats that won't deter us" by Unite's secretary general Sharon Graham.

"The strikes will go on until Tata halts its disastrous plans," she said on Thursday. An overtime ban had already been in effect from 17 June. But both actions have been suspended now for further talks.

Another union representing Port Talbot steelworkers welcomed Unite's industrial action pause and the fact it was getting "back around the table with their sister steel unions".

Alun Davies, the national officer for Community (the steelworkers' union), said Tata would resume discussions if the strike was called off.

"The truth is Tata never walked away from those discussions, and at our last meeting on 22 May all unions agreed to conclude the negotiations and put the outcome to our members. Community will welcome resuming those discussions, but we regret that zero progress has been made since 22 May."

Sky News understands that the final closure will now be in September following the industrial action pause.

A Tata Steel spokesperson said in a statement: "We have received written confirmation from Unite Union that with immediate effect they are suspending their current action short of a strike as well as the potential strike action due to commence on Monday 8 July.

"As a result, and given we can now be confident of ensuring appropriate resourcing of activities to operate safely, we will halt preparations for the early cessation of operations on Blast Furnace 4 and the wider heavy end in Port Talbot, planned for this week - we welcome the fact that we have avoided having to progress down this path.

"The resumption of discussions with the UK Steel Committee will progress from the position reached in the last meeting of 22 May and will focus on the future investments and aspirations for the business, and not on a renegotiation of our existing plan for the heavy-end closure or the enhanced employment support terms.

"The wind down process for Blast Furnace 5 has now begun to plan and we expect to produce the final iron at the end of this week."