Page last updated at 10:49 GMT, Monday, 26 January 2009

Corus workers steeled for cutbacks

By Simon Atkinson
Business reporter, BBC News

Corus Scunthorpe
Corus, a subsidiary of India's Tata Steel, employs 24,000 people in the UK

After seeing steel prices more than halve since September and demand slide 40% from its peak last year, it was perhaps inevitable that Corus would have to restructure its business model.

But after riding high on the need for its products - largely because of China's seemingly insatiable appetite for construction - the global recession has sped up the need for the firm to scale back.

The Anglo-Dutch company claims to be the sixth largest steel-maker in the world and the second-biggest in Europe, churning out 20 million tonnes of steel a year with annual revenues of about 12bn ($16.3bn).

And with factories at Port Talbot, Scunthorpe and Teesside, as well as steel processing operations in other parts of the UK, a total of 24,000 of its 42,000 staff worldwide are based in Britain.


Steelworks at Port Talbot, Scunthorpe and Teesside
Engineering steels produced at Rotherham
Strip mills at Llanwern, South Wales
Tinplate works at Trostre, south Wales
Coating works at Tafarnaubach, south Wales and Shotton, north Wales
Electrical steel works at Newport, south Wales
Tube mills at Corby and Hartlepool
Plate mill at Dalzell, Scotland
Narrow strip mills at Brinsworth, England
Special section mill at Skinningrove, England
Service centre at Lisburn, Northern Ireland

Blue-collar victims

While it is understood that the company will not close any of its plants, 2,500 of its 3,500 global job cuts are going to come in the UK, in regions that are hugely reliant on heavy industry.

Corus has said said that 600 jobs would go at Llanwern, as part of a total 1,100 cuts across the firm's Welsh operations.

A further 1,400 jobs will go at other UK sites including 713 in Rotherham, where a plant making engineering steels employs 1,350 people and is the town's biggest private-sector employer.

The job cuts underline that this is no white-collar recession, hitting primarily bankers and other professionals, as some had hoped. Once again, as in the recession of the 1980s and 1990s, British manufacturing is set to make its share of sacrifice.

In this case, however, the steelmaker is a global operation.

Bought by Indian conglomerate Tata in 2007, Corus was formed in October 1999 through the merger of British Steel and Dutch firm Koninklijke Hoogovens.

And British Steel itself, formed in 1967, was the product of a merger, bringing together as a nationalised body the UK's 14 main steel-producing companies.

Deep pockets

Tata became owner of Corus after its 608 pence-a-share bid for the European steelmaker beat that of Brazilian rival CSN.

At the time, Tata Steel's owner Ratan Tata hailed the takeover of Corus as "a moment of great fulfilment for all in India - the first step in showing that Indian industry can step outside its shores into an international marketplace as a global player."

Having snapped up Land Rover and Jaguar since it bought Corus, Tata clearly has deep pockets.

And unions and MPs have urged it to ensure Corus maintains its production capacity, so that the UK will remain a steel-making economy once the world slump in demand for steel is over.

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