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By John Helmer in Moscow

Layoffs of between 2,000 and 4,000 workers on the payrolls of Evraz steelmills and mines in Russia are a violation of the agreement Evraz signed with worker and regional representatives in November, a union leader told CRU Steel News today.

Lyudmila Zavzyalova, secretary of the Nizhny Tagil municipal authority, in Sverdlovsk region, told CRU Steel News that 1,400 workers from Evraz’s lead Russian mill at Nizhny Tagil were recently listed for dismissal, and 582 workers from the nearby Vysokogorsky ore-processing combine.

Alexander Mironov, a spokesman for the Kemerovo region branch of the Russian Mining and Metallurgical Trade Union told CRU Steel News the numbers to be laid off at Evraz’s plants and mines in his region were revealed in a company document, dated December 30. According to Mironov, the shutdown of two blast furnaces and two coke batteries at the West Siberian Metallurgical Combine (Zapsib) and Novokuznetsk Iron & Steel Works, both in Novokuznetsk city, will cost 700 and 150 jobs, respectively. Another 900 workers were targeted, according to the union official, at mines of the Evrazruda (“Evraz ore”) subsidiary.

Combining worker layoffs in the two regions makes a total of 3,732. The official payroll of the Evraz group, which is controlled by Roman Abramovich and Alexander Abramov, is not cited in the last company annual report, nor in any of the company’s references to its operations on the official website;. except for a note that 90% of the Evraz group workforce is employed in Russia; 10% in the rest of the world. According to the company’s 2007 Annual Report, labour accounts for 10% of the costs of the Russian steel division.

Layoffs ordered by Evraz at its North American plants since last November include 130 at the Oregon Steel Spiral Pipe Mill — 13% of the Portland firm’s work force; and 400 at Canadian plants of the IPSCO pipemaking group, which Evraz took over last year.

Mironov said the order for the layoffs violates an agreement the company signed with the union on November 6, 2008, when it was agreed that workers would accept a wage cut in exchange for retaining their jobs. The union also understook not to seek to revise the terms of the current collective labour agreement, and not to strike or hold other protest actions.

The union has asked the senior management of the company, along with the governor of the Kemerovo region, Aman Tuleyev, to reconsider, and to negotiate the job cuts.

Evraz spokesman in Russia Tatiana Drachuk claims the Russian numbers are not final. In Oregon, plant officials were ordered by the company not to speak to the press, because they were allegedly biased against Evraz.

A rolling-mill and associated production facilities have also been halted last month at Vitkovice, Evraz’s steelmill in the Czech Republic. This is despite an announcement from a mill spokesman in December: “We are not going to decrease production. We might have to concentrate more on our Russian branch and deal with possible problems in loans we will help to finance.”

A different approach to layoffs has been adopted by Magnitogorsk Metallurgical Combine (MMK), which is controlled by Victor Rashnikov, and is Russia’s largest steelmill. There, according to union reports in December, the company applied pressure on steelworkers to sign resignations as a way of cutting the employment rolls without appearing to fire anyone.

According to a Moscow press report, which interviewed several MMK workers, they were promised severance packages if they agreed to resign, and threatened with sanctions if they did not. The head of MMK’s union refused to answer questions about the process.

A source at the Mining and Metallurgical Union of Russia said it had compiled member reports for the period November 25 to December 1, and found evidence of “increased cases of voluntary termination of workers at all enterprises reflecting fraud and pressure from the employers.” Russian labour law requires two months’ advance notice in writing for proposed layoffs, and an offer of alternative work with the same plant. Dismissal requires severance pay amounting to two months.

Last October, Alexander Mastruev, head of personnel at MMK, was reported as claiming that MMK wasconsidering a furlough of employees, not dismissals or job cuts. The company spokesman Yelena Azovtseva declined to answer questions on the alleged labor law violations, or to comment on the union reports. Several employees of MMK’s press office have lost their jobs recently.

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