More than 200 workers at Tata Steel in Workington face an uncertain future after the company announced it planned to sell off its long products business.
Workington’s steelworks house an engineering workshop, with 250 staff, which supports Tata’s business of supplying products to industries including construction and excavation.
Tata said it has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Klesh Group, a European industrial company.
Karl Koehler, chief executive of Tata Steel’s European operations, said: “We will now move into detailed due diligence and negotiations, though no assurance can be given about the outcome.”
Unions Unite and GMB have criticised Tata Steel’s announcement.
A statement said: “The unions have been treated with contempt in this process as the level of consultation that we would expect ahead of such a major strategic announcement has not taken place. We have no comment to make about the potential buyer, as at this stage we are opposed to the principle of the sale.
“We will be seeking an urgent meeting with Tata Steel chairman Cyrus Mistry, to discuss his motivation for this move and to explain the potential consequences.
“We want Tata Steel to take a step back and carry out the consultation with its unions, which it should have been doing in recent months when it was preparing to sell its assets.”
But Tata Steel said at this stage it was only a potential sale and it was likely that negotiations would go on for several months before an agreement was reached.
The company said it wanted to focus on other parts of it business to make sure it built a “sustainable future”.
Also included in the possible sale would be Scunthorpe steelworks, mills in Teesside, Dalzell and Scotland, a rail consultancy in York and other operations in France and Germany.
Workington MP Sir Tony Cunningham said he was disappointed that people’s lives had been thrown into uncertainty.
He said: “I will be doing all I can to work with the companies and hopefully the Klesh Group want to keep Workington open as it has a highly skilled workforce.”