Workers return to Whyalla Steelworks as restart nears

Whyalla Steelworks will soon restart production and hundreds of workers are now able to return to full pay, the operator says.

Jul 03, 2024, updated Jul 03, 2024
Steel rolling off the production line at the Whyalla Steelworks in February 2024. Photo: Thomas Kelsall/InDaily

Steel rolling off the production line at the Whyalla Steelworks in February 2024. Photo: Thomas Kelsall/InDaily

GFG Alliance, the owner and operator of the Whyalla Steelworks, announced today that its attempts to restart the plant were “nearing completion”.

The plant has not produced steel since mid-March when its blast furnace went too cold during a two-day maintenance shutdown.

The furnace’s external shell was then damaged during attempts to bring it back up to temperature, setting back the restart timeline from May to June.

GFG said today that it had made “a series of breakthroughs which have seen the hot metal temperature and chemistry move to optimal levels in recent days”.

“We are now at the pointy end of the recovery operation which means we can start preparing the steelworks to do what we do best – making high quality steel,” Whyalla Steelworks managing director Tony Swiericzuk said.

Many workers at the steelworks – Whyalla’s largest employer – took an effective 30 per cent pay cut while GFG worked on restarting the plant. The pay cut has come via the loss of weekend and night shifts.

GFG said that from today, workers in its power and services, maintenance and steelmaking divisions will “progressively transition to their regular shift rosters”.

Rolling mill workers are also expected to return to their regular shift rosters “shortly”, GFG said.

“I look forward to welcoming workers back to their regular shift rosters and want to thank them for their patience and commitment during this time,” Swiericzuk said.

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Whyalla Mayor Phil Stone said it was a “huge relief” to hear workers would be returning to their regular rosters.

“This is very welcome news, as it’s been quite a difficult time for many in our community,” he said.

“These operations are critical for our community, so on behalf of the city, I commend everyone involved for their significant effort in getting the plant back and up running.”

The steelworks’ blast furnace began pouring hot iron again in late May but was yet to produce “usable” metal for steel production.

Last week, the blast furnace was reconnected to the main taphole which takes liquid iron to the refinery. It was previously connected to a smaller capacity emergency taphole.

Other parts of the steelworks also have to be restarted once the blast furnace is fully operational. This includes the basic oxygen ironmaking furnace where molten iron is refined into steel and the slab and boom caster where the steel is cast.

More than 1000 people are directly employed by at the plant, which is Australia’s only manufacturer of long steel products.

It’s also one of South Australia’s biggest carbon polluters, with GFG planning to decarbonise the steelworks with a $500 million electric arc furnace from Italian manufacturer Danieli.

The new furnace is being purchased with around $113 million in state and federal government support and is now scheduled for completion in 2027.

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