Surviving the Arrium crisis

BOND: Arrium worker and Union delegate Shane Karger, daughter Shay Karger, and partner Natalie Hyde.
BOND: Arrium worker and Union delegate Shane Karger, daughter Shay Karger, and partner Natalie Hyde.

With Arrium set to be sold, it can be easy to forget about the 15 months of turmoil that Whyalla had to endure before this moment.

For men like Shane Karger, it’s been an emotional, trying time.

Mr Karger has worked at Arrium for the past 17 years, having to keep his head above water while the company’s future remained uncertain.

He moved to Whyalla four years ago, and now has a family with his partner Natalie Hyde and daughter Shay Karger.

Unfortunately it wasn’t long after he moved to the steel city that things started going downhill for Arrium.

“It has been very up and down, we went through a period of restructuring before administration. We had a call from our board at the time saying we needed to save some serious money or there was a possibility we’d shut,” Mr Karger said.

“Then going into administration cast even more doubt on our future. It was very, very turbulent.”

Mr Karger was one of many workers who were asked to take a 10 per cent pay cut by administrators KordaMentha in order to keep the company in good shape for an eventual sale.

But there were still hard times for the workforce even before that cut.

“It started well before administration. There were a lot of retrenchments with the mines shutting, a lot of departments were shuffling people around and doing lots of cost cutting,” Mr Karger said.

“Then come administration we had the wage negotiations, which was pretty trying. As a Union delegate It’s hard to negotiate a pay cut, that’s not really what we’re about.

“We were negotiating a wage cut that you know is going to make life difficult for you at home financially. But you also have to look at the bigger picture – we needed someone to buy us to give us a future so that we would have a job.”

Despite having to do the hard yards at Arrium, Mr Karger was still grateful to the company for supporting Whyalla.

“Regardless of who is running the company, be it OneSteel or BHP, it’s been here forever and it’s given the town everything,” he said.

“To make a sacrifice, to give it a chance to continue on, was probably the least we could do.”'

Mr Karger said he and most of the workers knew they would have to leave town if the steelworks were to close.

“My position, and a lot of other people’s positions were that if the place shut we would have to look for work out of town. That would mean leaving my family here in Whyalla,” he said.

But now with a buyer secured for the embattled steelmaker, Mr Karger is hopeful for the future.

“It’s a great sense of relief, but there’s also a bit of trepidation. Liberty House have been very open about their plans in the media...However It’s all well and good for Mr (Sanjeev) Gupta to say they have never retrenched anyone but he does have to prove it,” he said.

“He virtually rescued the English steel industry, and we’ve got everything crossed hoping that’s what he is going to do for us as well.”

Mr Karger’s partner Natalie Hyde said the family bought their ‘dream house’ in Whyalla, only to see their situation deteriorate into a nightmare.

“We came here to live the rest of our lives here, but things were so uncertain that we didn’t know whether we could stay,” she said.

“We couldn’t leave because we had a mortgage here in town, so unfortunately the people who could leave left, and we were stuck here hoping for the best.

“Hopefully now that the company will be sold there will be more work around and more money getting spent in the town.

“We’ll just be waiting to see what will happen.”