Liberty Steel to cut more than 350 jobs at speciality plants

Kalila Sangster
A steelworker watches as molten steel pours from one of the Blast Furnaces during 'tapping' at the British Steel - Scunthorpe plant in north Lincolnshire, north east England on September 29, 2016. Thursday September 29, marks 100 days since the British Steel conglomerate bought the ailing plant from Indian company Tata Steel. In a recent interview, Gareth Stace, director of UK Steel, Britain's steel trade organisation said, "I welcome that they have brought the British Steel brand back to life. I think fundamentally it's a good and viable business and should have a strong viable future." / AFP / Lindsey Parnaby        (Photo credit should read LINDSEY PARNABY/AFP via Getty Images)
Liberty Steel has announced 355 jobs will be cut in Yorkshire and Wales. Photo: Lindsey Parnaby/AFP via Getty Images

Liberty Steel has announced it will axe 355 jobs in the UK in response to “challenging” market conditions and a continuing reduction in demand for UK steel products.

The steel maker plans to cut about 250 jobs at its plant in Stocksbridge, South Yorkshire, 70 in Newport, South Wales, and a few more at two other South Yorkshire sites.

Liberty Steel Group said there will be a consultation process with trade unions and that it is their “intention to avoid compulsory redundancies.” The company will offer voluntary redundancy to workers at the affected sites.

The firm said the move comes after a review of its UK business, leading to a decision to reduce its workforce at certain plants to match sustainable production forecasts.

READ MORE: Tata Steel to axe 1,000 jobs in the UK

Chief executive Cornelius Louwrens said: “Liberty has taken enormous strides in improving the performance of the steel mills it has acquired over the last six years. We’ve re-started mothballed plants and demonstrated a commitment to invest in the UK.

“Unfortunately, the steel industry in the UK is facing challenging conditions and we have made the difficult decision that there is a need to reduce the workforce at a handful of locations, in order to make them sustainable for the long-term.

Liberty Steel took over the plants in Wales and Yorkshire in 2017 after it bought out Tata Steel's (TATASTEEL.NS) speciality steels division for £100m ($131m).

The Liberty Steel job cuts are the latest blow to the struggling UK steel industry after the owner of Tata Steel’s Port Talbot steelworks warned on Monday it can’t keep “funding the losses just to keep it going,” sparking fresh fears over the future of the plant.

READ MORE: Manufacturing slump leads to shrinking UK economy

Tata had already announced plans to axe about 3,000 jobs in Europe in November. Last September it also confirmed the planned closure of its Orb Electrical Steels plant in Newport, South Wales, putting 400 jobs at risk.

Ross Murdoch, national officer of the GMB union, said: “Once again we have more bad news for the UK steel industry. A country that doesn’t produce its own steel for key infrastructure projects and shipbuilding is a country that’s destined to fail.

“Our steelworkers deserve better than this. The government urgently needs to intervene and ensure steel companies in the UK receive the backing they have long called for on energy costs and business rates.”

A Downing Street spokesman said the government was in contact with Liberty and trade unions and that Downing Street was "monitoring the situation closely."

The spokesman told the BBC: “This is a commercial decision but Liberty Steel Group has reaffirmed their commitment to the UK market and to its Newport, Stocksbridge and Rotherham steelworks, and all those affected will be offered the opportunity to remain in the wider alliance the firm sits in by joining a new company."

READ MORE: Chinese firm to buy British Steel for £70m

Gill Furniss, shadow minister for steel, said: “This is devastating for those who have lost their jobs at Liberty Steel in South Wales and South Yorkshire.

“The UK steel industry has faced countless challenges and under the Tory government they have received little to no help.

“The time for excuses is over. The prime minister must act now to save the UK steel sector and prevent further job losses.”