The country's peak steel industry body have called on the federal government to classify the steel industry as 'essential' to ensure it remains operating during a severe lock-down scenario.
In a joint statement released on Thursday, the Australian Steel Institute and Australian Workers Union (AWU) have urged the federal government to avoid causing a 'domino effect' that could see multiple industries collapse.
"Steel is a critical input across myriad aspects of Australia's society and economy, from residential and commercial construction, through to mining," they said.
"All these essential downstream and related industries rely on steel to function. If one part of an industrial supply chain is closed, this will lead to the closure of other industries and companies in a domino-effect."
The Whyalla Steelworks, owned by GFG Alliance, is an important link in the steel industry chain, which contributes $30 billion to the Australian economy annually and employs more than 110,000 people.
The ASI and AWU also raised the concern that the industry may not be in a position to recommence operations for several years should critical elements of the supply chain go into compulsory lock-down.
"Closing down Australia's blast furnaces, even temporarily, could result in a permanent closure of Australia's steel industry, compromising our national sovereignty in a geopolitically volatile time," they said.
"There are very significant technical constraints associated with closing down or winding back steel industry operations.
"Large, complex, capital intensive heavy manufacturing operations-particularly those involving molten materials-are simply not designed to stop and start.
"The continuous nature of the process necessitates prohibitively expensive chemical and engineering procedures to shut down with commensurate massive restart costs."
Liberty Primary Steel Executive Managing Director Jason Schell said the federal government had advised GFG that its Australian businesses 'remain essential across the mining, recycling, manufacturing, fabrication, processing, agricultural, construction and export supply chain, enabling them to continue operation'.
Mr Schell assured the Whyalla community that the business and its employees were doing everything in their power to continue operations by making health and safety paramount.
'"Looking after our people is our number one priority, so we've implemented numerous measures to ensure that," Mr Schell said.
"Continuing production is also critical. We're continuing to experience solid demand for our product during this period, so it's vital we meet this ongoing demand by looking after our people to ensure they remain healthy, focused and safe."
Some of the measures implemented by the company include:
- Educating employees on the vital importance of stringent hygiene practices and following all social distancing guidelines and laws increasing cleaning in the workplace and at home
- Self-isolating from all interstate and overseas travel as per the Australian Government advice
- Identifying and managing employees at highrisk from the virus
- Limiting all visitors to site
- Increasing communication to both employees and contract partners
- Encouraging working from home where possible
- Encouraging employees to access free external support services
- Adhering to SA Health processes for employees who develop COVID19 symptoms
SIMEC Mining Executive Managing Director Matt Reed said the Mining business was also doing everything possible to keep the daytoday business running while preparing for the very difficult circumstances that may lie ahead.
Federal Industry Minister Karen Andrews has been contacted for comment.