Union threatens action at Tata Steel Netherlands after Chairman’s sudden departure

Union action was expected to intensify from Tuesday at the major IJmuiden Netherlands plant of integrated steelmaker Tata Steel Europe, following the unexpected departure of company chairman Theo Henrar Monday.

Approximately 9,000 workers at the Tata Steel Netherlands (TSN) steel plant in IJmuiden walked out Monday after news of the chairman’s departure. Tata Steel Netherlands’ Central Works Council (CWC) Tuesday said in a statement that they expected a “hard confrontation with management in the coming months.”

Mill sources said that the industrial action in itself had little impact on production levels. However, the mill is already understood to be producing at below its full capacity as a result of COVID-19- related restrictions, and union action could reduce production further if jobs are cut.

CWC leaders said the company’s decision was “ill-considered” at a time of such market uncertainty brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

An estimated 18.9 million mt of EU crude steel capacity has been taken offline during the COVID-19 pandemic as steelmakers vie for customers in a market slump that European industrialists have compared to the 2009 financial crisis.

Chairman Theo Henrar had played a key role in helping to guarantee the steel mill’s survival amid a severe market downturn that has resulted from restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic, representatives of the CWC said this week.

“The steel industry is very vulnerable right now — there is not enough liquidity and we are currently in the throws of dealing with the coronavirus.[This decision] is unbelievable,” a CWC spokesperson told S&P Global Platts Tuesday.

A Tata Steel Europe spokesperson said that Henrar’s departure was agreed “mutually” and that he would continue to support Tata Steel until the end of the year as an advisor.

A reduction in 1,250 jobs was announced by Tata Steel as part of its “transformation program” in March this year, after the European Union competition regulators decided to reject a merger with Germany’s ThyssenKrupp.

Tata Steel Europe announced in April that as a result of the pandemic, it would postpone its reorganization plans until after July 1.

— Amanda Flint, Diana Kinch