A British steelworkers' union has launched a broadside on the "integrity" of Tata's sales process as reports emerge that the Indian giant is considering a break-up of its UK steel business.
Almost three months after Tata announced plans to sell its UK assets, including Port Talbot steelworks, the Community union has lambasted the firm for a continued lack of clarity on workers' futures. Community said they have "serious concerns about the integrity" of the sale process, pointing to reports that Tata could still opt to keep all or parts of the businesses.
"Tata made it clear they no longer wanted to keep their UK businesses. The UK government stressed the need for Tata to act as a responsible seller; however it is now unclear whether Tata intends to sell the business at all. Since that first announcement, the trust and good will of Tata’s loyal workforce has been pushed to the limit," it said.
"It is simply unacceptable that our members are expected to learn more about this process from the media than their own employer."
There are officially seven bidders for the entire business, which supports 11,000 jobs. While Tata has always publicly maintained that it plans to find a seller for the whole of the UK business, Sky News has reported that the firm is courting bidders for two smaller units offering speciality steels and pipeline tubes, respectively, from sites in Hartlepool, Rotherham and Stocksbridge.
A Tata Steel spokesman said: "Tata Steel is committed to running a thorough and urgent sale process for its UK business. That remains the case today. Negotiations about various aspects of the sales process continue with interested parties."
Sources close to the talks have told City A.M. that further progress has been delayed until after this week’s EU referendum, and may even depend on the outcome. Tata is an avowed Remain supporter, and has said that access to the single market is key for its business.
Business minister Sajid Javid continues to support the acquisition of up to a quarter of Tata’s UK business, and consultations are ongoing around the future of British Steel pensions.
Tata has called for more assistance, but the government has hardened its stance. Tata wants anti-dumping measures imposed on steel imports, and a reduction in green levies. The government is understood to have told Tata that it will offer no further reforms to support the sector.
A decision from Tata on the sale is expected within the next few weeks.
Should it go ahead, it is understood three bidders are likely to be shortlisted. They are steel and energy firm Liberty, management-led Excalibur; and Yorkshire-based equity and turnaround specialists Endless with the support of American tycoon Wilbur Ross.
A BIS spokesperson said: "The government is focused on a long term future for Port Talbot which keeps blast furnace steel production in the UK and we’re committed to a credible sales process."