(Adds details, CEO, background)
VIENNA, March 23 (Reuters) - Specialty steelmaker Voestalpine said on Monday it would introduce shorter working hours in about 50 of its European companies in Austria, Germany, Belgium, and France as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
The Austrian group said demand for its products in key sectors had collapsed within days due to massive reductions in capacity and production shutdowns in the automotive, aerospace, mechanical engineering, and oil & natural gas industries.
“The coronavirus pandemic is presenting Voestalpine with its greatest economic challenge of the past decade,” said Chief Executive Herbert Eibensteiner.
The impact on the results for the current business year 2019/2020 cannot be sufficiently determined, Voestalpine said.
The group, which employs more than 50,000 staff globally, reported its first nine-month loss in years last month and said it would introduce short-time working for most staff at a seamless tube plant in Austria due to a fall in orders.
“Registering for short-time work on a large scale across Europe is designed to achieve the clear objective of retaining our highly qualified employees,” Eibensteiner said.
No layoffs are planned in Austria for the time being but the numbers of contractors employed would be reduced, said the company. It did not speak about any potential layoffs elsewhere.
Several of the company’s sites in countries including France, Italy, Peru, Brazil and the United States have already been temporarily closed. (Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; Editing by Jan Harvey and Pravin Char)