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British PM Wades Into Tata Steel Labour Issue
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British Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday said his government has started discussions with Tata Steel over a strike threat by its workers in the UK over a pension row.
Cameron was asked in parliament by opposition Labour lawmaker Tom Blenkinsop whether he would engage with Tata to avoid what he called a crisis in the sector.
"It is very important that government talks intensively to the leaders of the steel industry, Tata in particular, about what we can do to try and safeguard the jobs and the growth that there have been in the steel industry over previous years," Cameron said in his response.
"We have started those discussions - we have had discussions, for instance, about the steps we are taking for high energy intensive industries and the help that we can give - but at the heart of a successful steel industry is always going to be a successful economy and a successful construction industry, which is why we should stick to the long-term economic plan," he said.
Last week, trade unions had voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action against the Mumbai-headquartered steel giant after a ballot of over 17,000 steel workers was sought over a dispute over the existing British Steel Pension Scheme (BSPS) being replaced with a "money purchase" pension scheme in which employees, the government and the employer will make definite contributions.
It would also hike the retirement age from 60 to 65.
Stephen Kinnock, another Labour party MP, had earlier this week intervened on behalf of his constituents at Tata Steel's Port Talbot plant in Wales and urged Cameron to speak to Tata.
"There is still time to pull this conflict back from the brink," he wrote in the New Statesman magazine.
Three unions - Community, UCATT, and GMB - voted in favour of strike action, following a ballot.
They represent a large chunk of Tata Steel's 17,000 employees in the UK.
The results of a ballot by the Unite Union, which represents around 6,000 workers are also expected soon.
"Strike action is firmly on the agenda. We have heard nothing new from Tata since our ballot result was announced," Community General Secretary Roy Rickhuss said in a statement.
Tata Steel had described the ballot result as "disappointing".
"We remain hopeful that employees will see that these proposals and the mitigations represent the most fair and balanced way of dealing with the deficit. We also remain hopeful that employees will avoid taking any action that damages our objective of building a successful and sustainable UK business capable of supporting a secure pension scheme," it said in a statement.
If a strike goes ahead, it will be the biggest labour action in the British steel sector in three decades.
Late last year, Tata prompted a flurry of political concern when it announced talks to sell off a chunk of its loss-making mills to the Geneva-based Klesch Group.