Luxembourg: Steel workers attacked ArcelorMittal’s Luxembourg headquarters on Tuesday during the company’s annual shareholders meeting, setting off smoke bombs and breaking through the front door to protest temporary layoffs during the economic slump.
Some of the 1,000 workers from Belgium and France hurled cobblestones and steel fencing at the building, smashing windows and tearing off a steel molding from the ornate 1920s exterior.
Riot police lined up to protect the head office of the world’s biggest steel maker. One protester broke into the building and was immediately captured by police. Between 20 and 30 others fought police at the entrance, waiting several hours for him to be released.
Journalists were told to leave the ground floor and leave from a back entrance as smoke filled the halls. But the protest did not affect the shareholder meeting and lunch, which continued on an upper floor.
Buses had brought the workers from plants in northern France and from Charleroi and Liege in southern Belgium.
ArcelorMittal has cut production by half as the steel industry rapidly went from boom to bust late last year. The company has so far avoided major permanent layoffs but is offering voluntary redundancy to 9,000 of its 315,000 staff around the world. Salaries are frozen and board members have volunteered a 15% pay cut. Some senior staff are also taking a 10% pay cut.
It expects global steel demand to sink by 15 to 20% this year with growth in India and China failing to compensate for a major US and European recession.
It has shuttered plants across the world, laid off temporary workers and put full-time workers on reduced pay during the output freeze.
ArcelorMittal chief executive Lakshmi Mittal said the cutbacks were a “temporary suspension of production in view of the market conditions” and that he expected sales to recover in the second half of this year.
“Customers have stopped buying steel and are using up their current inventory,” he told shareholders. “There is absolutely no point continuing to produce what we know we cannot sell.”
Deciding which plants would reopen first would depend on how cost-competitive they are, he said.
European trade unions warned Monday that tensions among workers were high because the company won’t give firm details on when shuttered plants would restart. It said ArcelorMittal management walked out of talks this month on restarting a blast furnace in Liege.
Germany’s largest steelmaker ThyssenKrupp AG said on Friday it plans to cut up to 2,000 jobs at its seven plants in Germany by 2011. It employs nearly 200,000 people worldwide.
The European steel federation says that one in six steel workers in the region have lost their jobs or are working shorter hours since the start of the economic crisis. It claims some 72,000 jobs or 17% of the European Union’s 440,000-strong steel work force have been hit by the downturn.