Intra-EU border closures hamper steel workforce availability

Tightened border controls between some EU countries are preventing staff based in other countries from returning to their workplaces at German steel distributors and processors.

Germany has severely restricted border-crossing traffic coming from, among others, the Czech Republic, due to the country’s high coronavirus infection rate. According to a manager at a Bavarian distributor of coil products, the number of Czech workers across metals-working Bavarian industries amounts to some 30,000.

Only last week, his company succeeded with getting permissions for a number of its workers to come back to Germany. “It was a snapshot decision [from the authorities]. Such issues are often decided at very short notice at the political level,” he tells Kallanish. In this case, it helped that his company supplies steel to medical equipment makers, and therefore was certified as system-relevant.

Things work well on the local level, he notes. For example, hotels which otherwise are currently empty for lack of tourism, can be rented to accommodate foreign staff. However, the problems with crossing the border have Eastern European workers rethinking their employment patterns. They may now prefer to look for jobs at home because it is safer.

The same has been heard from distributors in the long products sector. A manager at a rebar bending shop on Germany’s western border says he is often concerned that Polish workers may be held back in their home country for longer than planned, or decide not to return at all. “It’s mostly Eastern Europeans working in bending shops all over the country,” he observes.