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Monday, June 7, 1999 Published at 08:04 GMT 09:04 UK

Business: The Company File

Welsh steel workers 'optimistic'

Workers at British Steel's plant at Llanwern, near Newport, expect to ride through expected job losses from the merger with Dutch company Hoogovens.

Llanwern and British Steel's plant at Port Talbot employ 7,000 workers between them, with other workers employed at Shotton in north Wales and at a smaller tin plate works at Ebbw Vale.

British Steel has made massive investments in Port Talbot, but not Llanwern, making the latter a potential candidate for closure.

Some 1,500 job losses were announced at Welsh plants last autumn, as part of British Steel's overall efficiency review, with staff at Ebbw Vale unhappy at management "reneging" on a redundancy agreement.

Four weeks later, the strength of the pound meant Llanwern and Port Talbot shut down for an unprecedented two weeks at Christmas, fuelling fears of plant closures.

But at Llanwern - which employs 3,500 workers - talk of fresh redundancies or closure has been met with a bullish response.

"I think it is an over-reaction," said Llanwern worker Clive Roberts, who has been employed at the plant for 35 years.

"Llanwern has always been the ugly sister and there have been reports of its demise before, but it hasn't closed. I think it will survive."

Alan Watson, an Iron and Steel Trades Confederation representative at the Llanwern plant, said production would continue as normal until there was notification of otherwise.

"I spend every working day thinking about the members who come under me and I have no concerns at the moment," he said.

Rhodri Morgan, the Welsh Assembly Economic Development Secretary, facing his first real challenge in office, has called for an urgent meeting with British Steel.

Mr Morgan will meet with Brian Moffat, the chairman of the newly formed BSKH, to discuss the likelihood of job losses at Llanwern and Port Talbot. The Welsh minister told BBC Radio Cymru on Monday that he would call on the European Union to investigate the deal, it if meant the closure of any of the Welsh plants.

Union leaders appear confident they can stave off talk of Llanwern closing and they have talked of a new, stronger company better equipped to deal with trading in world markets.

It is thought that job losses are likely to come from management and sales areas.

Part of the decision on whether Welsh jobs go may rest with Welshman John Bryant, the new chief executive of the company, who made his reputation as the head of British Steel's Strip Productions Division.

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