THOUSANDS of workers in the North-East are facing an uncertain future after steelmaker Corus announced it may have to close one of its UK plants.

The manufacturer is struggling to cope under a mountain of debt and must shed part of its operation if it is to survive.

Corus has not said where the cuts will come, but warned that drastic measures would have to be taken to bring the company back to profitability.

A total of 26,000 workers are employed in the UK - 3,600 of them at sites across Teesside and Hartlepool, the rest at Scunthorpe, and Port Talbot and Llanwern, in Wales.

Ashok Kumar, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP and a former steel worker, accused the company of "creating a climate of fear".

Corus's problems stem from Dutch opposition to its plans to sell its aluminium operations to French firm Pechiney for 750m euros (£516m).

The company, formed out of the merger of British Steel and Dutch firm Hoogovens in 1999, was relying on the sale to substantially reduce its £1.2bn debt.

The Dutch supervisory board, put in place to protect Dutch assets at the time of the merger, objected to the sell-off and Corus was forced to seek legal redress in the Netherlands to attempt to force through the sale.

A decision from the Dutch court is expected tomorrow. If the challenge is rejected, Corus said Britain would bear the brunt of further cost-cuts.

Michael Leahy, general secretary of the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation, said: "The news is a body blow to Corus's loyal and highly productive UK workforce."

Alistair Arkley, chairman of the Tees Valley Partnership, said: "Steel - both the jobs it provides and the financial input into the local economy - remains vital to the entire Tees Valley."

More than 10,000 UK steel jobs have been lost since Corus was formed, 1,100 on Teesside.