This column appeared in the Llanelli Herald on 27th January 2016
Workers in Trostre and Port Talbot have a big decision to make on whether to accept the deal they have been offered by Tata.
Politicians have been put under pressure to keep their opinions to themselves, but I have not.
My view is that the outcome of the vote will have an impact on the whole area. If workers vote to reject the deal the Heavy End at Port Talbot will close, hundreds of workers will lose their jobs and there will be a big ripple effect on the whole economy. That is not something I can stay silent about.
I don’t blame the workers for being angry. There are steelworkers who have spent decades working seven shifts in a row; shift patterns that have ignored public holidays, just as they’ve ignored weekends and standard working weeks. I’ve been in touch with workers from Llanelli who have had to work nights and long days in highly stressful, intensely physical environments; all on the promise that at 55 they could retire on a decent pension.
And now - for many, at the eleventh hour - they feel they’re being done-over by a company they’ve understandably lost faith in. They don’t believe the guarantees, and for many who are within reach of retirement they are being asked to take a significant cut. One man described it to me as being asked to jump into a black hole whilst they whisper “we’ll catch you”.
I’ve been clear from the moment the deal was announced that this is economic blackmail by a multinational company playing off Governments and workers to try and minimise its costs and maximise its profits.
The anger is real and understandable and there’s risk that they will reject the offer. Tata need to listen to this if they want to salvage the situation.
I have met with the Chief Executive of Tata in the UK as has First Minister Carwyn Jones. And the message back is: the deal is the deal.
I have been critical of Plaid who have called on workers to reject it. They are jumping on the bandwagon of legitimate worker discontent, but it is deeply irresponsible of them to do so when they know that the impact of a No vote could decimate the industry. The livelihood of hundreds of families would be wiped out if Tata put its Welsh operations into receivership. Not only would jobs go but the pension fund would take an immediate 10% hit when it is taken into the Government’s Pension protection Fund. In fact the Allied Steel & Wire workers say they only got around 50% of their pension back after it went into the fund.
I do not envy the choice Tata workers have to make.
We need to make sure we are not put in this position again, and focus on developing jobs where we are not held to blackmail by big foreign companies.