The Indian owner of the Port Talbot steelworks has warned it can’t keep “funding the losses just to keep it going,” sparking fresh fears over the future of the plant.
Natarajan Chandrasekaran, chair of Tata’s holding company Tata Sons, is said to have refused to commit to continued steel production in Britain.
His comments in the Sunday Times are likely to sound alarm bells for thousands of workers at Tata’s biggest UK steelworks in south Wales.
Tata’s steel division (TATASTEEL.NS) had already announced plans to axe around 3,000 jobs in Europe in November, suggesting office workers would be hit hardest but declining to give further details on where the axe would fall.
Last September it also confirmed the planned closure of its Orb Electrical Steels plant in Newport, South Wales, putting 400 jobs at risk.
The European steel industry has struggled in recent years under the strain of US tariffs on EU steel, Chinese competition, and high energy bills. The decline of sterling since the Brexit referendum has also affected the UK industry.
British Steel, which runs the main Scunthorpe steelworks and was sold by Tata for £1 in 2016, collapsed into administration in May. It was sold on to Chinese industrial conglomerate Jingye for £70m in November.
Paul Evans, Wales officer for the Unite union, said the remarks add “more pressure on the Tata workers at Port Talbot.”
He told the BBC: “The site is obviously key to the future of the other Tata plants in Wales.
"The workforce at Port Talbot have for many years proved they are the producers of world class quality steel and Wales and the UK can't afford to lose the expertise and commitment they have shown over the years."
Chandrasekaran had told the Sunday Times: “I need to get to a situation where at least the plant [Port Talbot] is self-sustaining.
“Whether it is in the Netherlands or here, we can’t have a situation where India keeps funding the losses just to keep it going.
“Everyone will tell you the Tatas have gone way beyond to keep this going. Anybody else would have walked away.”
He also said of a possible sale of its European steel operations: “If you’re not going to be performing...who is going to be interested?”