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AWU Steel Industry Reference Group

May 1, 2020

A message from your AWU Steel IRG Chair, Lance Turner


COVID-19 has proven challenging for every sector of the Australian economy and has tested us all. But we have pulled together and looked after one another – like we always do.

Now, it’s more critical than ever to stand together as proud AWU members to ensure that our safety is protected and that our industry gets the attention it deserves. You can read about important information relating to safety at work here – but if in doubt, speak to your AWU delegate or organiser.

I encourage you to speak to colleagues and friends at work who are not yet in the union. With a global pandemic underway, the government ramping up efforts to attack conditions and supply chains affected the world over, there has never been a more important time to be a union member.

You can stay up to date or share information via our special Facebook page for AWU steel members.

Keeping Steel open for business

Intense lobbying early on during the COVID-19 crisis took place at the state and federal level – particularly in NSW and Victoria – as there was genuine concern governments would shut down the entire steel industry. What became clear was that many politicians had no idea about the complexity and damage involved in closing down a blast furnace or steel plant and had no concept of the impact this would have had on the wider economy.

We joined forces with The Australian Steel Institute to keep your jobs safe by ensuring that our steel industry was classified as an essential industry. Our hard work paid off and we are pretty confident that the threat of government mandated shutdown has passed.


The AWU also teamed up with the Master Builders Association to keep Australia’s construction industry open for business. It is vitally important to keep construction open to ensure the steel made by AWU members has a market to sell into.


We have also worked with all the major employers to put in place health and safety regulations that will keep our members safe. Temperature checks when starting work, staggered starts and meal breaks and a sharp increase in cleaning on all sites.

We’re relatively lucky in the steel industry. We’re still open for business and news from across the sites is largely positive. But we are absolutely not out of the woods yet, and we will continue to work hard to make sure our industry is protected.

Fighting for your future

COVID-19 has demonstrated one thing very clearly – Australia is too dependent on the global supply chain when it comes to having the things we need, when we need them. We have the capacity and the expertise to manufacture much more at home, and we should.

The AWU has been saying this for years, and the Federal government is finally listening, and we are going to be centre-stage in helping shape this new and exciting future.

AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton has just been appointed to a new government lead manufacturing taskforce. The role the steel industry has to play in Australia’s future will be critical.

We will be keeping you regularly updated with news from the taskforce where we will continue to lobby for government procurement of locally made steel and stronger anti-dumping measures.

The AWU is also lobbying to ensure the incredibly low energy prices currently seen around the world benefit Australian steel.

The drop in oil due to a lack of motor and aviation demand, has also had a knock-on effect on gas prices and as a result electricity prices have dropped. While many of your sites will have contracts negotiated before these price falls, we will be lobbying to ensure the price drops filter down so that manufacturers can benefit. If these prices stay low for the next nine to ten months then they should help secure a positive future for steel in Australia.

We do have to be mindful of the long-term effect of the shutdown on the Australian economy, with unemployment on the rise across the entire economy. Residential construction appears to be slowing down, but civil construction is remaining stable and we can be sure that state governments will be looking to rebuild their economies with large civil projects that will require Australian steel.

Site round-ups

The mood on site at Bluescope Port Kembla is pretty positive and production is moving along well. Orders are down around 10% and understandably there are no capital upgrades currently taking place, and non-urgent maintenance postponed. Contractors have also been taken off the books.


Members at DSI Newcastle are seeing more work – with more overtime due to DSI’s close connections with the mining industry, which is still powering away. Like most sites, members are undertaking daily temperature testing, staggering meal breaks and shifts and instituting other measures to maintain safety.


Organisers at ARC Queensland are reporting the best production levels for eight months. They have even managed to have a few casual employees made permanent. Safety here is of course paramount and cleaners are coming in between day and night shifts.


The order book At Liberty Rooty Hill is stronger than ever but COVID-19 cost cutting is still taking place with overtime shifts dropped. Organisers expect this to be reversed due to strong demand and the site is still operating the same roster. AWU worked with Liberty to install extra site sheds and toilets for worker safety.


Meanwhile, Liberty Whyalla has announced it is pausing any capital works program in Whyalla for the time being. We will work with the employer on this to ensure that the much needed upgrade to our steelworks occurs as soon as possible.


Stronger Together

Remember, the AWU Steel IRG is here to represent you and to fight for our industry.

Please let us know if there are issues you need raised or important matters that you would like to know more about. We will report on other sites and industry news as it comes to hand, so please make sure you are letting us know what’s going on.

You can stay up to date or share information via our special Facebook page for AWU steel members.


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