ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steelmaker, has begun the process of shutting down its blast furnace at the steelworks it owns in Kraków, with unions warning that up to 2,000 jobs are at risk.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, speaking to RMF FM, said that the shutdown is “all because of the European Union’s climate policy”.

He also suggested that the situation would not have arisen if the steelworks – which were created during communist rule as part of a new industrial district of Kraków – were still under state ownership rather than being “sold off by previous governments”.

“We are talking with the owner,” said Morawiecki. “I hope they will respect their employees. […] I hope the employees will be kept on despite the furnace shutting down.”

ArcelorMittal, which has owned the steelworks since 2005 (initially as Mittal Steel), has promised that the “great majority” of the 1,100 workers will be offered jobs at the company’s other facilities in Kraków or at Dąbrowa Górnicza, where its other two blast furnaces in Poland are located.

The firm had originally intended to shutdown the Kraków furnace in September, but this was delayed following union protests. ArcelorMittal insists that the situation is temporary, and that production will be restarted once market conditions improve, as happened after a previous shutdown in 2010-11.

All three of ArcelorMittal’s furnaces in Poland have been running at their “technical minimum” already, said the firm’s CEO Geert Verbeeck. “As the situation on the steel market continues to deteriorate and the outlook remains gloomy, we regrettably have no choice but to temporarily idle the blast furnace in Krakow.”

The firm has blamed the difficulties on global overcapacity in the steel sector, an unexpectedly large fall in demand for steel in Europe, increases in the price of raw materials, as well as broader “uncertainty, trade tensions and geopolitical issues”.

However, trade unionists have continued to lead protests outside the firm’s headquarters in Kraków and at the offices of the provincial government. They have submitted a petition to the prime minister describing the furnace shut down as “a huge threat to thousands of jobs and to the families of workers employed by ArcelorMittal and cooperating entities”.

The unionists tell the prime minister they feel “cheated both by the board of ArcelorMittal Poland and by ministers of your government, who before the parliamentary elections [last month] assured that the blast furnace in Kraków would not be shut down”.

Józef Kawula, one of the unionists and who has worked at the furnace for over 40 years, said that “if the government cares about having a Polish furnace, they should buy it back now”.

Poland’s government has been critical of EU efforts to reduce emissions. It has been blocking proposed EU carbon-neutrality targets until “significantly larger” funding from the European budget is provided to Poland to help with its transition costs.

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