A FORMER industrial chaplain who has first-hand experience of dealing with mass redundancies and closures in the steel industry has issued a call to prayer for the current crisis at the Tata Steel plant in Port Talbot (News, 8 April, 22 January, 23 October 2015).
The Revd Bob Paul, a Baptist minister, worked from 1990 to 2003 in South Wales when the works at Llanwern, Panteg, and Orb experienced job losses and shutdowns. He also supported colleagues in Scotland when plants at Motherwell and Ravenscraig were scrapped.
“During that time, I saw the distress of managers, the worry of people who couldn’t get jobs, and a lot of anxiety in those who needed to know where they were going to go,” he said on Wednesday. “All of that was brought back to me when this new crisis arose. . . As Christians, it is important to pray for the people who are going to have to make some very difficult decisions.” Also, he said, “we need to pray for the people who are living in limbo.”
In his plea, issued this week through Workplace Chaplaincy Mission UK, he described a steelworks as “a community: each department and shift is a mini-community, rather like a family. The complete or partial closure of a works is therefore a bereavement for all those who work in it.
“Workers may spend more time with the others on their shift than they do with their family. Sometimes, a shift crew is more stable than a member’s marriage, and there is great camaraderie.”
His call has been picked up on the internet and gained support across the country. “It’s very gratifying,” he said, “because it means a lot more people are aware of the real issues affecting people in the middle of all this.”
He welcomed the news this week that Tata’s works at Scunthorpe has been bought by the investment firm Greybull Capital, but said that it was still a time of uncertainty, and financial cutbacks.
In Scunthorpe, the Urban and Industrial Chaplain for North Lincolnshire, the Revd Peter Vickers, said on Tuesday: “There is a cautious optimism, but no one is dancing in the streets just yet. It is still eight weeks until things are finally resolved, but the relief is really quite palpable.
“The crucial factor now is the workers’ ballot on a three-per-cent pay cut, and changes to the pension scheme. The unions are 100 per cent in favour, but with democracy you never know.”
The suggestion on Monday by the Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, that the Government might co-invest with a buyer, was welcomed by Tata’s South Wales industrial chaplain, the Revd Rick Hayes. “I am quite pleased to see the Government is coming on board at last”, he said. He described the mood at the Port Talbot plant, which was formally put up for sale this week, as “up and down”. “People are not despondent,” he said, “but they are worried. We are still in the unknown.”