Tata Steel has announced it is to cease operations at its Port Talbot-based Morfa coke ovens this week. In a statement, its CEO Rajesh Nair said the closure would take place on Wednesday, March 20, as a result of what he described as a "significantly deteriorating operational stability."

It is understood that around 200 workers will be affected by the decision. Community union national officer for steel, Alun Davies, said its "number one concern is its members' safety", but that it was a "massive blow".

The ovens had originally been scheduled to close in June, along with blast furnace five under Tata proposals. For the latest Welsh news delivered to your inbox sign up to our newsletter.

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Mr Nair said in a statement: “We regret to announce that we have been forced to make the decision to cease operations at Morfa Coke Ovens from Wednesday, March 20, as a result of significantly deteriorating operational stability. In our recent discussions with our trades union colleagues, the need to cease operations at the Morfa Coke Ovens and one of the two blast furnaces this summer is understood.

“The performance of the coke ovens has been deteriorating over many months, despite some herculean efforts by the teams there. The condition of the ovens has now worsened to a level making continued operation untenable. We will now begin the process of safely closing and purging the coke ovens, and ceasing operations at the adjoining By-Products plant.

“We will work hard over the coming weeks to understand the aspirations of the current coke ovens workforce in alignment with our ongoing wider consultation programme. I’d like to give my sincere thanks and appreciation to all those who have worked at the Morfa Coke Ovens since its commissioning in 1981 – I have always been struck by the spirit and camaraderie of the workforce there who have always given everything to the plant, often in very difficult circumstances. Your efforts have been critical to the survival of the Port Talbot works, and you should always feel very proud for having been part of that team.

"We have been clear in our current restructuring proposals that many of our heavy-end assets in Port Talbot are at their end-of-life capability. As part of our efforts to stem our current losses, and given the condition of the assets, we propose to close the heavy end iron and steelmaking assets at Port Talbot within this calendar year in a phased manner. Tata Steel is investing £1.25 billion investment in electric arc furnace-based capacity which will secure steel making in Port Talbot for the long term —and facilitate a transition to low-CO2 steelmaking. Consultation on these aspects is currently ongoing."

National officer for steel at the steelworkers’ union Community, Alun Davies, said: “The early closure of the coke ovens is a massive blow but we knew they have been deteriorating and our number one concern is the safety of our members. Tata know the unions will not accept any compulsory redundancies and we are working to conclude negotiations on an enhanced redundancy and retention package. Regretfully, the coke ovens were always going to close during the transition period, but once the national consultations conclude we will ballot for industrial action should Tata confirm their intention to close Blast Furnace Number 4.”

Unite is currently balloting 1,500 Tata workers for industrial action. The vote closes on Tuesday, April 9 and strike action could begin before the end of the same month. Unite regional secretary for Wales, Peter Hughes, said: “Tata’s decision to close the coking ovens is the result of years of betrayal. From the start, it has set out to manage the decline of UK steel while accepting government handouts to keep operations on life support. Tata needs to halt its plans and wait for Labour’s promised £3 billion to reinvigorate the UK’s steel industry. The time to fight for Port Talbot is now, which is why we are urging Tata’s workers to vote yes to strike action.

"On Friday, Tata updated unions that while the problems with the coking ovens continued, they had hopes to improve the situation soon. Just two days later and the company has announced it is closing them completely. Unite has previously called for an independent assessment into the viability of the coking ovens and that assessment is even more crucial now." Join our WhatsApp news community here for the latest breaking news.