Saturday, December 19, 2009

Joint task force to try and avoid Corus' Teesside closure

BS Reporters / London/Bangalore December 19, 2009

Tata Group-owned European steel maker Corus and Britain’s National Steel Co-ordinating Committee have agreed to establish a joint task force to ensure that all alternatives to mothballing the former’s Teesside Cast Products (TCP) facilities are examined.

Appropriate preparations would continue, should mothballing be still required. The task force will also oversee individual consultations with the workforce, which will begin in January. The decision was taken after the steel committee and Teesside Multi-Union representatives met Corus officials on Thursday to discuss the situation at TCP.

“The task force will work with local and national government agencies to mitigate the potential loss of Teesside's core skill base and the effects on the local region and its economy. The unions will be engaging their own steel industry experts to assist with the process,” a joint statement said.

This is the first official announcement from Corus (along with the National Steel Co-ordinating Committee) that it is willing to look at alternatives to mothballing the plant. On December 4, Corus had said that after due consideration since May, it had decided to mothball a major part of its facilities in Teesside, that would lead to 1,700 job losses.

The government of UK’s intervention is being seriously considered as an option to mothballing. Peter Mandelson, the UK'S secretary of state (minister) for business, innovation & skills, who was in Bangalore for a lecture at the Indian Institute of Science on Friday, said: "I will be having discussions with Tata Steel management about the future of Corus' Teesside plant and I have been in contact before and we will have further discussions."

Earlier this week, Ashok Kumar, the area’s Member of Parliament had, in a debate in the House of Commons, said he had spoken to representatives of Ratan Tata on the issue and was assured that the latter would be willing to meet Prime Minister Gordon Brown if the invitation came from Brown's office directly.

Keith Hallowed GMB (Union) National Secretary who attended the talks said : “GMB will take a full part in this agreed process and GMB members will be looking for positive inputs from all parties.”

Corus added that Karl-Ulrich Köhler, a 53-year old steel industry veteran, was set to join the company as its Chief Operating Officer from February 1, 2010. Köhler succeeds Rauke Henstra, who held the position until his retirement last year. He will report to Kirby Adams, MD and CEO, Tata Steel Europe.

Köhler will be based at Ijmuiden in the Netherlands. A statement issued by the company said Köhler had worked during his 30-year steel industry career at the companies that today comprise ThyssenKrupp Steel, where he was most recently Chairman of the Executive Board and a Member of the Board of the parent company, ThyssenKruppAG.

Until October, he was President of Eurofer, the European steelmaking federation, in which role he succeeded former Corus CEO Philippe Varin. "He brings to Corus a wealth of knowledge and experience of steelmaking in Europe, as well as of the European steel supply chain and customer base," the company said.

Kirby Adams said: “This appointment demonstrates Tata Steel’s ambition to further enhance its European business, as well as the determination of this management team to emerge from the financial crisis in a strong and highly competitive position.

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