The head of the Ukrainian Federation of Steelmakers – about the socio-economic situation at the enterprises of the industry

The war had an impact on the enterprises of the iron and steel complex, probably more than on other branches of the economy. The drop in production indicators by more than 65% speaks for itself. However, even in these difficult conditions, iron and steel enterprises continue to perform their functions before workers, communities and the state. Serhiy Bilenky, head of the Ukrainian Federation of Steelmakers (FSU), told about it in the interview for GMK Center.

What is the current activity of the Ukrainian Federation of Steelmakers aimed at? What new tasks have arisen Federation in conditions of war?

– FSU, as before, in constructive cooperation with the Federation of Employers of Ukraine and authorities, is working on all draft laws and other normative legal acts in the field of social and labor relations, the labor market and education, which directly or indirectly affect the industry. FSU also takes a proactive position and acts as an initiator of the necessary changes.

During the war, new tasks and challenges appeared: assistance to the Armed Forces, creating conditions for the safety of workers, employment and support for people who left the temporarily occupied territories, personnel problems, ensuring the payment of wages and maintaining other social guarantees for workers in conditions of unprofitable work of enterprises .

How did the war affect the employees of iron and steel industry?

– Many women with their children left abroad or to safer regions of Ukraine. Some of them continue to work remotely. Thousands of men defend the country in the ranks of the Armed Forces and other military units. It is quite difficult for them to find a replacement. A significant number of workers were forced to leave their homes and work in the temporarily occupied territories. Many of them have already been employed at other enterprises in the industry and provided the necessary support.

The production indicators of the industry have fallen by more than 65%, enterprises are working on average at a third of their potential capabilities, the need for labor force has decreased significantly. Under such conditions, how do the enterprises of the industry solve the problems of loading their employees and pay salaries?

– One of the most important tasks now is to preserve the production potential and labor teams of enterprises. Qualified steelmakers and miners are trained for years. They cannot simply be disbanded for the duration of the war and then quickly recruited again after victory. This is unacceptable neither from a moral nor from an economic point of view. That’s why industry enterprises do everything possible to support and retain employees: offer to use vacations, work under idle conditions, part-time employment. Only where all options have been exhausted, employers are forced to resort to such measures as suspension of employment contracts or dismissal.

As for salaries, unfortunately, they are decreasing – for purely objective reasons. In September 2022, compared to pre-war January, the average monthly salary at FSU enterprises decreased by 27% – to UAH 15.4 thousand.

How do iron and steel enterprises manage to fulfill their social obligations to workers and communities under the conditions of war?

– Everything depends on the situation at a particular enterprise. If the enterprise works, then social obligations are partially or fully fulfilled. If the enterprise is stopped, then it is much more difficult to do. In both cases, constant effective communication between employers and trade unions and authorities is important to prevent conflict situations.

How serious is the problem of staff shortage at iron and steel companies in connection with the mass departure of people from certain regions and the conscription of company employees into the army?

– The problem is already present, and it will certainly worsen when enterprises have opportunities to increase production volumes. And this is not only a problem of iron and steel industry. It is nationwide and will require solutions at the state level.

Is there a problem with the booking of key employees, on whom the work of production depends?

– There is a problem, and we are cooperating with the government to solve it. We understand that the grueling war has been going on for the ninth month and the state needs mobilization resources to protect the country. Now it is important to maintain a reasonable balance between military and economic needs. The country cannot function normally, let alone fight effectively against such a powerful enemy, relying only on the help of our foreign partners.

Is work on the Sectoral Agreement ongoing? Is it still stopped in the conditions of war?

– In December 2021, the FSU and industry trade unions resumed work on the preparation of the draft of the new Industry Agreement. It was hoped to complete it in mid-2022. During the war, such work is impractical, since it is impossible to plan anything even for the near future. Therefore, a joint decision was made to stop this work for the time being.

What measures, in your opinion, can support the iron and steel complex under current conditions?

– Thorough proposals of iron and steel industry associations were sent to the government regarding possible mechanisms of state industry policy during the war and in the period of post-war reconstruction. In short, for the preservation of the industry, the following measures are now critically important: the restoration of sea exports, the expansion of the capacity of western railway crossings for export, the maximum reduction in the cost of transporting export railway cargo across the territory of Ukraine, the reduction of the cost of electricity and natural gas, the revision of mining rent rates iron ore and environmental taxes.

Iron and steel industry has always been the largest employer, but in the context of the economic downturn, its role has grown even more. Is there understanding and interaction with local and central government in matters of support for the industry?

– The industry has never asked and is not asking even now, during the war, for any unjustified preferences from the state. We advocate a reasonable and pragmatic state policy in relation to the industry. The state should be interested in a powerful and competitive iron and steel sector, which is an employer of hundreds of thousands of workers, a large taxpayer to the budgets of all levels, a supplier of foreign exchange revenue to the country and a strategic investor. There is an understanding of the urgent problems of the industry, proposals for their solution have been formulated, a dialogue with the authorities is also taking place. We are waiting for the results in the form of concrete decisions of the authorities.

What is the outlook for the profession of a steelmaker in conditions of decreasing industry?

– Despite all the difficulties, we look to the future with optimism. Any war ends sooner or later. Immediately after our victory and the de-occupation of the territories, a large-scale recovery of Ukraine’s economy will begin. And iron and steel sector will have a huge potential to make up for what was lost during the war. Therefore, the professions of steelmaker and miner will be very relevant and in demand.