Ex-Tata worker criticises Port Talbot 'sleep' sackings

One of 13 workers sacked by steel-making giant Tata for allegedly sleeping at work has criticised the "big brother" tactics of the company.

Rob Owen, 53, from Cwmafan, a former rigger at the company's Port Talbot site, denies sleeping on the job, but says rest periods were common.

The men were allegedly filmed sleeping through parts of their shifts in mess room areas at the steelworks.

Tata said: "No employer could ignore allegations of such malpractice."

Mr Owen spent nearly 20 years at the plant, and as a rigger said hours could pass between call-outs.

He said: "I had three interviews with HR and management and was shown tapes of me going into a room and putting a light out.

"And this was, in their eyes, enough to say that I was sleeping."

Mr Owen said the light was out for five hours.

"It doesn't sound very good, but, you know, some of us were playing on computers or different things, reading books," he said.

He added: "It's like Big Brother, isn't it?

"Why didn't they pull us to one side and say, 'boys, you've heard of allegations that you're sleeping, sort it out.'

"But I also said why didn't they find us work for 12 hours?"

The issue was first brought to Tata's attention by a whistleblower.

Last winter, a series of tiny cameras were installed in light fittings, smoke alarms and other fixtures.

In December, 17 riggers involved were shown the evidence and 13 were dismissed.

The Community union has criticised the use of secret cameras, and in four of the cases successfully argued that evidence was not conclusive, and the men were kept on.

'Short-sighted decision'

One worker is expected to be supported at an appeal tribunal by the union later this year.

Community's national officer Roy Rickhuss said the union was "extremely disappointed at the turn of events".

Image caption Union leaders claim the incident could damage good industrial relations at the Port Talbot plant

"They made a short-sighted decision that potentially can damage the relationships going forward, and we've still got our challenges to face."

"We have made management aware of our feelings, they have given a commitment to review this policy, and we will be meeting with them shortly to try and restore good industrial relations," he added.

Tata Steel spokesman Robert Dangerfield said the whistleblower's allegation of a "systemic malpractice - sleeping on the job - in one part of the plant had to be investigated and its veracity checked.2

"This is the real world of a potentially hazardous workplace with workers scattered over a plant covering 12 square miles - not a science fiction fantasy like Big Brother," he said.

"No employer could ignore allegations of such malpractice."

He said the operation was not carried out with "relish" and said everyone at the site was "bitterly disappointed to uncover the malpractice".

He added that Tata had learned from the issue and was still in close discussions with the unions.

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