Unite's 'stay out of Tata' ballot debate plea to politicians

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Media captionMark Turner of Unite said politicians should keep out of the issue

One of the biggest unions at Tata says politicians should not interfere in the workers' ballot over whether to accept a less generous pension scheme.

Unite was responding to Plaid Cymru's economy spokesman Adam Price, who urged steel workers to reject a move from final salary pensions.

Balloting is expected to begin at the end of January.

Tata said pension reform is essential to a deal that would see £1bn invested at Port Talbot over 10 years.

The company made a commitment to secure jobs and production at Port Talbot and its other steelworks in December.

But Plaid AM Mr Price said Tata was being "opportunistic", adding workers should ask it to rethink the offer.

The financial climate around the steel industry has changed over the last 12 months.

World steel prices have risen from $385 per tonne of hot rolled coil a year ago, when Tata announced more than 1,000 UK job losses, to $536 per tonne by August just after the company put the sale of its Welsh operations on hold.

China had been accused of selling surplus steel to Europe at below cost price, driving down its market value.

But last summer, the European Union continued imposing tariffs on foreign imports - with up to 22% levied on cold rolled steel, which is used in cars and washing machines.

'Difficult proposals'

And the turnaround plan put in place at the biggest plant, Port Talbot, saw the reported losses of £1m a day at the site reduced.

Mark Turner, a Unite union official at Port Talbot, said: "When politicians start making comments on either side, they need to understand what they're doing and the influence they have on people.

"There are personal decisions to make but also the future of the steel industry, there are a lot of things people have to take into consideration.

"We'd like politicians to keep their opinions to themselves for the time being."

Meanwhile, Aberavon MP Stephen Kinnock criticised Mr Price, saying he was "astonished" at his intervention, given the delicacy of the situation.

"This is a very personal decision that the steelworkers have to make, based on a range of factors," said the Labour MP.

"There have been some very impressive proposals from Tata Steel in terms of securing long term future of the works.

"But on the other hand there are some difficult proposals for the workers to swallow in terms of the pension scheme and the workforce should be allowed to get all the information they need and to vote according what they think is the best thing to do.

"It is not right that any politician should be coming in and meddling in what is a very personal decision."

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