US Steel Kosice restarts two blast furnaces, hot rolling mill

Slovakian company US Steel Kosice has restarted two blast furnaces and the hot rolling mill after a coronavirus pandemic-induced outage, the plant’s spokesman told S&P Global Platts.

“Due to the pandemic, we made a decision to pull our Q3 [maintenance] outages into Q2 while we are at what we believe to be the bottom of the market,” the spokesman said. “We finished the outage work last week and restarted a blast furnace.”

USS Kosice will wait until demand returns before restarting its third blast furnace. Blowing in the last BF might take time, as “the COVID pandemic has crippled the manufacturing sector, and the demand for steel in the EU is down 50%”, the spokesman said.

Given the weakened market, the steelmaker has expressed its disappointment with the so-called Safeguard review proposal made by the European Commission.

“Once again the government in Brussels has shown they do not support the home steel industry, and all our employees and the employees of the many businesses that depend on the EU steel industry,” he said.

USS Kosice was seeing poor demand before the coronavirus pandemic. In 2019, its liquid steel output declined to 3.9 million mt, down from 5 million in 2018 and 5.1 million mt in 2017.

In July 2019, it announced, as a measure to improve the cost position of its business, it would reduce the employee headcount by 2,500 by the end of 2021. Some 1,400 people left the company in 2019. COVID-19 has made it speed up the process.

After negotiations with trade unions, the steelmaker has recently adopted an amendment to the collective labor agreement, which offers, in exchange to the termination of work, a one-off severance payment amounting to 18-times their monthly wages to employees, who either have less than three years to their retirement, or have worked in the company for 35 years or more.

USS Kosice, a US Steel-owned integrated steel plant and coke production facilities in Slovakia, conducts its business mainly in Central and Western Europe and primarily serves customers in the European transportation (including automotive), construction, container, appliance, electrical, service center, oil and gas conversion and petrochemical markets.

With 5 million mt/year steelmaking capacity, the plant produces and sells slabs, plate, sheet, tin products, spiral welded pipe, and refractory ceramic materials.

— Ekaterina Bouckley