Ambitious Whyalla expansion shot in arm Australian manufacturing needs

Ambitious expansion plans for the Whyalla steelworks represent an exciting chance to revitalise Australian manufacturing for the modern era and the opportunity must be seized, according to the Australian Workers’ Union.

GFG Alliance head Sanjeev Gupta has today announced plans to replace Whyalla’s blast furnace with a $1 billion-plus electric arc furnace and modern steel-making facility by 2024. Mr Gupta has assured the workforce and South Australia that not a single job will be cut at Whyalla as part of the transformation.

The AWU’s South Australian Branch Secretary, Peter Lamps, said the union was buoyed by Mr Gupta’s commitment to maintain jobs.

“GFG Alliance saved the Whyalla steelworks and since then our members have been working hard to ensure it stays viable for the future,” Mr Lamps said.

“Too often we see companies slash costs and treat workers as disposable. To have a public commitment from Mr Gupta that not a single job will be cut at Whyalla is a real boost for confidence not just for the town, but for the entire state.

“GFG Alliance’s expansion plan proves that Whyalla’s best days can and should lie ahead. We can maintain livelihoods today and secure many more for the future.”

The longer-term plans for Whyalla include a new iron facility to produce low-emission steel, called GREENSTEEL, using magnetite resources in South Australia’s and from Australia’s domestic steel scrap.

An electric arc furnace will also be installed along with the previously announced construction of a new rolling mill. The news measures will double Whyalla’s steel producing capacity according to Mr Gupta, so much so that it will be able to meet all of Australia’s needs for its rail, mining and infrastructure projects rather than relying on imported products.

Building of the new furnace and the DRI plant is expected to get underway in 2021 and be operational in around three years. The new plant will initially be powered by natural gas before being converted to hydrogen. GFG’s hydrogen will be produced by a large solar plant that the company is also building at Whyalla.

It is hoped the measures will result in Whyalla being the largest producer of carbon-neutral steel by 2030.

AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton said Mr Gupta’s vision was exciting.

“This kind of investment is the huge shot in the arm Australian manufacturing needs at this moment in history,” Mr Walton said.

“It is an ambitious plan that would launch Whyalla and Australian steel making into a new era. It’s a genuinely exciting opportunity for the future of quality of blue collar jobs in this country.

“I know governments right now are looking to get behind Australian manufacturing and this is exactly the sort of project worth backing. Meanwhile, government can provide additional support to Australian steel by committing to using it in all upcoming infrastructure projects.

“There is no reason Australia should not lead the world in modern sustainable steelmaking. GFG Alliance sees the potential and we should ensure it comes to fruition. The capacity to produce steel is critical to our sovereign capability.”

Mr Gupta also announced a three-month review of the Whyalla steelworks to identify cost-savings and efficiency measures until the new plant is up and running. The plant has been significantly impacted by the global pandemic but GFG Alliance has revealed it will put in extra funds to help it ride out the downturn over the next year to 18 months.

The AWU will be keeping a close eye over the review process to ensure your jobs and working conditions are protected.

The AWU needs your support to ensure Whyalla remains fully operational and helps power Australia for years to come.

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