Steel companies have taken the Chinese coronavirus pandemic seriously from the beginning, behaving as responsibly as possible because they cannot afford to lose employees in non-stop operations, the closure of which could cost billions of crowns. The measures taken often go beyond legal obligations. Companies provide effective protective equipment, minimize human contact, and they detect infections in a timely manner by frequent testing, where most of the infections come from homes. In the three largest member companies alone, these measures have so far cost dozens of millions crowns, with the state not contributing in any way. The share of active cases in our companies is approximately 50% lower than the available and clearly underestimated figures for the general population. This clearly disproves the myth that industrial companies are the breeding ground for the infection.
The Steel Union does not agree with the general closure of all companies, as suggested by some uninformed individuals, including Ministers Hamáček and Maláčová. “All businesses cannot be tarred with the same brush. Some behave responsibly, others do not. Companies in the steel industry, where people often work in difficult conditions and therefore have special qualifications, cannot afford to lose employees,” Daniel Urban, Chairman of the Board of the Steel Union, said. Since the beginning of the pandemic, our companies have taken above-standard and strict measures against the spread of coronavirus because we are used to behaving responsibly towards employees and society.
Stopping the operation of the steelworks, including blowing out the blast furnaces, is unthinkable for the steelworks. For example, in Třinecké železárny, this would mean additional costs in the amount of hundreds of millions to several billion crowns. Continuous metallurgical operations cannot simply be shut down and restarted quickly in a week. “We appreciate the support of Minister Havlíček, who, unlike some colleagues from the government, is aware of this,” Urban added.
The member companies of the Steel Union comply as far as possible with all preventive hygienic and organisational measures, which is regularly confirmed by inspections of the hygienic service. “We have adjusted the beginnings and ends of shifts so that work teams do not meet, we use home office, we perform regular and thorough disinfection of common areas, we provide enough protective equipment, we perform our own detailed tracing, we introduce our own prophylactic quarantine programs including above-standard compensations and we perform frequent antigenic testing,” Ivo Žižka, Human Resources Director and Member of the Board of Directors of Třinecké železárny, said.
As evidenced by data from the Ministry of Health of the Czech Republic dated 31 January 2021, published in the media, industrial companies are a place where the number of employees is less infected than in other sectors. The internal statistics of our member companies prove the same: Liberty Ostrava reports 0.74% of active cases, Vítkovice Steel 0.88% and ArcelorMittal Tubular Products Karviná 0.77%. The figure for the general population, which is clearly underestimated, is currently 1.39%. The industry as a whole is therefore under fire from unsubstantiated criticism.
In many ways, steel companies replace the role of the state without the Czech government compensating them. Nevertheless, constant testing and strict adherence to hygiene measures are the key to stopping the spread of the virus. “During the pandemic, we have spent millions of crowns on the above measures in a situation where we are in great uncertainty about the development of the economy and demand, which fell as early as during the first wave,” Kateřina Nogolová, a Member of the Board of Vítkovice Steel, said. “Only the last invoice for PCR tests was for more than 200 thousand crowns, so we are impatiently waiting for detailed information on the state's contribution to the costs associated with testing in companies,” Nogolová said. Třinecké železárny estimates the cost of extraordinary measures at CZK 4 million per month.
“We do our utmost to protect the health of employees in our plants because employees are the most valuable asset we have,” Žižka, Třinecké železárny, said. A total “lockdown” could be counter-productive as it does not have to limit social contacts, on the contrary: collective nationwide leave in companies can result in meetings and contacts of people outside the workplace, i.e. out of the established and functioning control. The interruption of production in sectors such as the steel industry, which are barely recovering from the fall in demand in 2020 and which continuously generate much-needed levies and taxes to the state budget, would only mean more and more huge costs and the risk of damage to technologies.