The war unleashes an avalanche of ERTE in the industry: "I fear for my job"

The ArcelorMittal factory in Olaberría (Gipúzcoa), the former Aristrain steel mill, happens to be one of the most productive of the global steel giant and, by extension, of the entire European industrial system. Their figures attest to this: the 415 workers produce more than a million tons of steel in the form of profiles a year. It is a plant that has never experienced serious problems since its creation at the end of the 1950s. Neither the oil crisis of 1973, nor the industrial reconversion that Spain experienced in the the 80s, nor the financial one of 2008. Even during the hardest months due to the pandemic, the Gipuzkoa steel factory did not stop.

However, this week, with kilowatt prices on an endless climb, increased from the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, If he did. Fifteen hours of stoppage of its electric oven due to the price of energy, which has reached all-time highs. “We are not going to produce at a loss and at these prices, the increase in energy prices can no longer be passed on to customers. We will be pending electricity market to make new decisions and, where appropriate, new shutdowns”, they assure from the plant management.

“In all the previous crises, and I have been working in this factory since 1998, I have not seen this plant in danger. But now I am worried. I had never experienced this situation and I see my job at risk. This is not a joke. Our standard of living is going to be delayed for years”, confesses a factory worker who knows it well from the inside as he sat on the Works Council for several years. In addition to the Olaberria plant, ArcelorMittal announces that it will not will start its factory in Bizkaia in Sestao, scheduled for these days, and that in Asturias, where the company has more than 5,000 workers, the entire longs division will stop between March 24 and 28.

It has also agreed to production stops or directly an ERTE, Acerinox in Cádiz, which has cut all its nickel purchases worldwide and has applied a temporary suspension of employment for its 1,800 workers, although it also maintains around 7,000 jobs in its auxiliaries; Valeo Lighting in Martos (Jaén), also; Stellantis for its production in Vigo (7,000 workers) for two weeks due to lack of supplies; Michelin Lasarte (Gipúzcoa) and Vitoria stop on alternate days; The Cantabrian steel company Reinosa Forgings & Castings plans an ERTE, like Alumalsa in Zaragoza or Cementos Portland, which will stop all its furnaces in the six factories it has in Spain, located in Catalonia, Navarra, Cantabria, Madrid, Castilla y León and Andalusia for a week.

Added to the list Steel Roldán in Leon it puts the brakes on its production; Ferroglobe has stopped its three furnaces in Galicia, Cantabria and Asturias; The ceramic sector, particularly important in Levante, also multiplies its ERTE due to the price of gas and the lack of supply of clay, since the 70% of all that this sector imports comes from Ukraine. Mercedes also stands out, which has suspended all its exports to Russia and has blocked the shipment of 400 vans to this country from the Vitoria plant, something that, logically, will have an impact on the workers.

Most of these dozens of companies with thousands of workers they are electro-intensive and have no longer been able to withstand the escalation in electricity prices. The energy crisis has made a dent in the electricity bill in recent months, an escalation that has increased since the beginning of the war in Ukraine on February 24. Added to this situation is the problem of supplies due to the scarcity of raw materials. Aluminum, nickel or palladium, vital to the automotive industry and of which Russia is one of its main world producers, have also seen their prices skyrocket and other vital inputs such as cereals, of which Russia and Ukraine are Europe’s breadbasket, also suffer from supply problems and a rise in their cost .

In this sense, the agri-food sector is one of the most affected. General Mills, manufacturer of products Old El Paso (Mexican food, such as wheat tortillas, corn and sauces) and Nature Valley (cereal bars), imports most of the sunflower oil from Ukraine, about 80 tons per week. The war conflict has cut off the supply of this type of oil, so the company, located in San Adrián (Navarra), has informed the unions of its intention to propose an ERTE for productive reasons to apply it as soon as possible and for two months to the total of the 800 workers of the staff. At the same time, the Company Committee has proposed a strike for the next days 15, 16 and 17 March for issues of salary review of workers. “I fear for my job. And if I stay unemployed because of Putin?”, one of the factory employees tells La Información.

But there are other branches of the agri-food sector that are also affected by the war and see their survival in danger. The fish canning sector, which has a turnover of 3,100 million euros a year, and is deeply rooted and important for employment throughout the north of Spain, from Galicia to the Basque Country, has activated all the alerts and does not hide its “great concern” about the conflict, the main supplier of sunflower oil in Spain. Companies have activated plans for contingency and urgent “alternatives” due to the risk of a “mismatch between supply and demand” in “three weeks or a month” and there will be a large shortage in the sector, according to the secretary general of Anfaco (National Association of Manufacturers of Canned Fish and Seafood), Juan Manuel Vieites, since 44% of the preserves use olive oil, while 56% are made with sunflower oil. “Us we may run out of oil supplies in two or three weeks and if that happens, production will have to be stopped and this will have repercussions on employment”, he assures.

The European fishing sector, including the Spanish one, has also requested urgent aid from the European Commission to avoid the collapse of the activity and the risk of shortages due to the rise in energy prices and logistics as a result of the war. Also, the sewage treatment plants, bivalve hatcheries and shellfish cookers need to be connected to the electricity grid 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They cannot turn off pumps, refrigeration equipment and freezers. From the Association of Mollusk Purifiers Entrepreneurs (Agade) They even say that they are using generators and that the only solution is to stop production.

The President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, has already warned that Spanish companies are going to be forced to pay a price, as a result of the conflict, and that will be made available to you ‘certificate of war’ to cover companies that need to suspend work contracts or reduce working hours. This Wednesday, in the control session of the Government of the Congress of Deputies, the Minister of Labor, Yolanda Díaz, recognized that the impact of the war on the economy and on employment will be “surely significant”, both in Spain and in Europe . Faced with this situation, employers and unions have demanded from the Executive, for example, from the Basque employers’ association, Confebask, even the UGT unionimplement measures that facilitate this tool.

On March 2, this newspaper reported that the Government was “finalizing a package of measures to mitigate the economic impact of the war unleashed in Ukraine by the Russian invasion.” Among them was the ability to activate the RED flexibility and stabilization mechanism. A tool, included in the new labor reform, that allows the Government, in difficult situations for the economy in general or for a particular sector, to enable aid to companies with the aim of protecting jobs, through suspensions or reductions in working hours with the umbrella of Temporary Employment Regulation Files. The Spanish company can go, in just two years, from the pandemic ERTE to the war ERTE.