CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- A union leader said Wednesday that Venezuela's government has decided to nationalize the country's largest steel maker, only days after announcing takeover of major cement companies.
Carlos Becerra, a leader of the Unified Union of Steel Industry Workers, told The Associated Press that Venezuela's vice president informed the union and company representatives that the government will immediately nationalize the steel producer, Sidor.
The government and the company have yet to comment. The vice president, Ramon Carrizalez, scheduled a news conference to discuss the ''nationalization of Sidor.''
Sidor's parent company, Luxembourg-based Ternium SA, is controlled by Argentine-Italian conglomerate Techint Group.
The company -- whose formal name is Siderurgica del Orinoco -- was privatized in 1998.
Workers have held protests at Sidor's steel plans in the eastern state of Bolivar, demanding better salaries and benefits.
Leftist President Hugo Chavez on Sunday said he had instructed Carrizalez to meet with union leaders to discuss the situation. Chavez said the government ''has to demand with great firmness that any company ... comply with Venezuelan laws.''
The nationalization of key industries has been a centerpiece of Chavez's socialist agenda in the past two years. The government took majority control of telecommunications and electricity companies last year, along with Venezuela's last remaining privately run oil projects.
Chavez also announced plans to nationalize major cement companies last week, and his government is now in talks on the terms with Mexico's Cemex SAB, France's Lafarge SA and Switzerland's Holcim Ltd.
Venezuela plans to assume at least 60 percent ownership in the cement businesses, and has said the foreign companies will have the option of staying on as minority partners.
Becerra said union and company representatives were present at a meeting early Wednesday where Carrizalez announced the government's stance on the steel maker.
Another union leader, Nerio Fuentes, told the Venezuelan television station Globovision that company workers ''have taken possession'' of the steel maker's facilities.
Ternium's shares on the New York Stock Exchange were down more than 9 percent after the news in early trading.
Ternium owns 60 percent of Sidor, while the Venezuelan government holds 20 percent and the remainder is in the hands of current and former employees.