Union advocates demand state action to save steel plant
Union leaders and workers at the struggling Liberty Steel plant in Dudelange demanded that Luxembourg's government do what it can to force a sale to a more stable owner and protect more than 200 jobs.
"We have no future under Liberty Steel and Mr. Sanjeev Gupta ”, Sylviane Gambini of the LCGB union said during a demonstration outside the plant.
Gupta is the industrialist atop the metals and mining conglomerate called GFG Alliance, which includes Liberty Steel. He and company advisors have been struggling to acquire new financing since March when GFG's main lender, Greensill Capital, collapsed into administration in the UK.
Last month, Britain's Serious Fraud Office launched an investigation into GFG Alliance over suspected fraud and money laundering, adding further jeopardy to the jobs of the more than 30,000 steel and other workers employed worldwide. GFG denied wrongdoing and pledged to cooperate with the SFO.
Most of the Dudelange's plant workers were already receiving unemployment compensation last month, union officials told Luxembourg Times. Liberty Steel took over the Dudelange plant from ArcelorMittal in 2019 together with a sister plant in Liège, Belgium.
"Our calculations indicate that with the current level of liquidity, the plant will not be able to survive the summer if a solution is not found by July", said Robert Fornieri, deputy secretary general of the LCGB union.
Liberty Steel did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.
Plant workers have lost trust in Liberty Steel, said Stefano Araujo, head of the OGB-L union's steel division. The company hasn't invested any of the €100 million in upgrades announced for the site and its sister plant in Liège, Belgium, Araujo said in prepared remarks before the protest.
Employment has also dropped by about a quarter since the company bought the site from ArcelorMittal, he said.
The troubles at Dudelange come at a time the steel industry is running at full tilt to keep up with demand, which jumped as the Covid-19 pandemic eased. Liberty Steel is having trouble paying suppliers for the materials it turns into finished products, Araujo said, having lost its key source of financing.
Under the circumstances, one solution might be for Luxembourg's government to nationalise the factory and run it until a new buyer emerges, he said.
(Additional reporting by Marlene Brey and Jean-Michel Hennebert)