While the liquidation of the Belgian subsidiary is initiated, it seems that the days are numbered for Liberty Steel Dudelange, which is now on a complete standstill. But the management does not want to give up, to the chagrin of the unions.
While the two Liberty Steel Liège sites were, unsurprisingly, liquidated by Belgian courts on April 13, the Dudelange plant is dependent on supplies from Flémalle and Tilleur, a year after the bankruptcy of the bank that financed the company, the peril run to be affected by this fall.
A scenario predicted by the unions that is becoming more concrete every day, while production in the Wolser industrial area is now completely at a standstill and the workers are busy as much as possible between routine work and time off work. “Enough to kill the profession,” laments Robert Fornieri, head of the LCGB’s Liberty files.
Ensure wage payment
For the majority union, the main concern in the past few weeks was to ensure wage payments in view of the financial situation, which had been negative for months: “We had met with the management, who from the 20th guaranteed us that the staff would be paid. What has been done, we had confirmation today, even if we have no idea where the money is coming from,” wonders the deputy general secretary.
As for the executive roadmap, in the short term it consists of continuing in May as in April, ie without production volumes, with partial presenteeism from the workforce. However, since Liberty Steel’s appeal to the Liège Company Court had no suspensive effect, the procedure was initiated with the appointment of three liquidators and new sources of supply had to be found.
“Management mentions a small amount that could come from the Liberty Skopje site in Macedonia, but not until June, and it is only 5,000 tons or less than 10% of Dudelange’s monthly production capacity. It’s totally crazy,” enthuses the trade unionist and former steel worker.
Without taking into account the lack of liquidity, for which the group would be “in negotiations with dealers” while being able to tick the debt of 10 to 15 million euros on behalf of Liberty Liège. “Nothing comes in, the losses are piling up. We’re hoping for a payment freeze to finally pave the way for a buyer. We’re waiting for bankruptcy, but they’re holding out,” he notes, but estimates that the debt will exceed half of the company’s capital “in the coming weeks,” which would trigger liquidation.
“Two to three buyers” in the rows
Labor and Economy Ministers Georges Engel and Franz Fayot, both Social Democrats, reaffirmed the government’s full support to trade union delegates at their recent meeting. Even if there were a problem with pay during the transition period: “The employees would then be supported,” assures Robert Fornieri.
The traces for a buyer are also becoming clearer, even if nothing is currently leaking. He, who takes part in all discussions, judges that this is going in the right direction so far: “It is very positive. We have two to three serious potential buyers with real intentions. Everyone has their own limitations,” he says.
Repeatedly raised, ArcelorMittal, which has already expressed its disinterest, would once again face competition rules in the European Union, which had obliged the steel giant to divest around 10 sites – including that of Dudelange – in 2018.
The Russian steelmaker NLMK, whose name is also circulating, fears difficulties in connection with international geopolitical tensions and the embargo against Russia. Finally, the German Salzgitter, which had already made an offer to take over the Dudelangeois site in 2018, is quoted by our colleagues in the Belgian press.
A senior manager on a seduction mission
A key executive at Liberty Steel’s European branch this week requested an interview with the Luxembourg authorities and the unions with the idea of presenting another recovery plan for this autumn, according to Robert Fornieri: “He claims to be able to bring them.” half of the production volumes from September and a full volume or almost back in October for Dudelange. But we’re not in that logic at all, we’re wondering what planet they are on. A meeting is scheduled to take place in the next few days.