Workers urge Romanian government to save metal industry

Romanian metal workers called Thursday on the government to take action to save thousands of jobs at steel plants sold by Russian giant Mechel to an obscure trading company.

"Romania's government should take urgent action to save what can still be saved from what was once the flagship of Romania's metal industry," the Metal 94 union wrote in a letter to Prime Minister Victor Ponta.

"Any delay will mean that plants will continue to be dismantled to be sold as scrap" added Constantin Iarca, president of the union.

Mechel plants employed up to 5,000 people at the end of 2012, according to the union.

Around 250 metal workers from across the country demonstrated in front of the government's offices on Thursday to put pressure on the administration.

Mechel, a Russian metal group with revenues totalling $12.5 billion in 2011, announced in February the sale of its Romanian assets, citing "unfavourable prices on the European markets".

The 4,000 employees of Mechel Romania heard the news through the media, and the identity of the buyer, Nikarom, a tiny, unprofitable firm owned by two Russian citizens without any experience in the steel industry, triggered controversy.

With 340,000 euros ($442,000) in annual revenues, Invest Nikarom now controls five of Romania's main steel plants which together report some 850 million euros in annual sales.

More than 1,200 jobs have already been shed by Nikarom and more will follow the firm said.

"500 workers have already been laid off at our plant. We fear for the future even though production has restarted", Dan Dinescu, a union leader from the Targoviste mill in central Romania told AFP.

"The Romanian government has created a working group to see how to prevent plants from being dismantled", a spokesman told AFP, adding however that the possibilities of action were limited because Mechel and Nikarom are private firms.

Between 2008 and 2012, Romania's steel industry lost 10,000 jobs and production slumped from five to three million tonnes, according to official figures.