PARIS (Reuters) - Steelmaker ArcelorMittal vowed on Friday to kick-start a 180-million-euro, five-year investment programme at its Florange site in eastern France in the first quarter of 2013, seeking to allay union concerns over job cuts.
The fate of Florange's two idled blast furnaces, which employ just over a quarter of the 2,000 metalworkers at Florange, has become a headache for France's Socialist government, which struck a deal last week with the company to avoid job cuts amid union pressure.
While ArcelorMittal said it would keep the two blast-furnaces shuttered, it pledged to work with unions to reach a labour deal involving transfers to other jobs at the site, retirement packages and voluntary redundancies.
"The group's management calls on workers to construct with it a new phase in the history of Florange, which is destined to remain an important site for steelmaking in Europe," the firm, 40 percent owned by the Mittal family, said in a statement.
France's firebrand Minister for Industrial Revival Arnaud Montebourg raised the stakes in the dispute with ArcelorMittal last week by threatening to nationalise the Florange plant, raising workers' hopes that were dashed by last Friday's deal.
Unions angrily denounced a trick on Thursday when the company announced it was ditching its bid to run an EU-funded "green steel" project at Florange due to technical difficulties. The ULCOS project was regarded as crucial to reviving the furnaces.
ArcelorMittal, however, said on Friday it would plough 13 million euros into its nearby research centre of Maizieres-les-Metz in a bid to overcome the technical problems. A successful bid for EU-funding would allow one of blast furnaces to be used in a pilot project, it said.
The investment calendar for the Florange site will be detailed at a December 13 meeting with unions, ArcelorMittal said, promising to meet all its commitments to the French government. (Reporting By Daniel Flynn; editing by Ron Askew)
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