Coke Ovens Closure: Excitement and anticipation for our diverse team

Tremendous pride as Whyalla heads into new steelmaking age

12 September 2023

The closure of the Whyalla Steelworks coke ovens in September will evoke a wide range of emotions among past and present employees.

There will be a mix of memories, sadness, excitement for the future and tremendous pride when reflecting on those employees who have worked so hard and diligently over the 55-year history of this important component of the steelmaking process.

I love the fact I learned something different every day … every single day is different

Coke Ovens employee Hayley Piel

There are still people in Whyalla, now retired, who were there for the first push. There are people now transitioning to new roles with GFG Alliance in Whyalla after nearly 50 years at the coke ovens and there is the present diversity that comes with female employees who have entered and thrived in this previously male-dominated work space.

Anthony ‘Glen’ Summers is the longest serving Coke Ovens employee having been with the operation since 1976. He jokes that once you joined the coke ovens ‘they wouldn’t let you out’ but he also says his career at the steelworks has enabled him to set himself and his family up for life.

WORK MATES: Hayley Piel is hoisted high by her fellow coke oven operators. Picture: Hugh Brown.

“I was never planning to stay so long,” Glen said.

“But you get married, have kids and buy a house so you need to work.

“I never really thought of going anywhere else, it was steady work and a regular pay cheque.”

Others in the coke ovens would joke that it was the ‘Hotel California’ after the famous Eagles song that says ‘you can check out any time you like but you can never leave’.  

Operation of the coke ovens is a very technical operation that requires great skills and diligence, so employees were encouraged to stay to make full use of the training offered and even pass on their skills to others.

Taking advantage of these opportunities in recent times have been a female contingent of operators like Hayley Piel as they come to appreciate the diversity and technical aspects of the coke ovens and the steelmaking process.

Hayley started here straight out of school nearly five years ago and wanted to follow in the footsteps of her grandfather.

“I love the fact I learned something different every day,” Hayley said.

“Every single day is different.”

Hayley now has the opportunity to continue her career at the Whyalla Steelworks with every coke oven operator now transitioned to other roles within the GFG Alliance operations in Whyalla.

I never really thought of going anywhere else, it was steady work and a regular pay cheque

Coke Ovens employee Anthony Summers

The coke ovens closure is another step in the GFG Alliance CN30 (Carbon Neutral by 2030) strategy for Whyalla. It follows the announcement in April that a contract has been signed for the supply of a low carbon emissions Electric Arc Furnace for the Whyalla Steelworks to replace the coke-fired blast furnaces.

Main image: Coke Ovens operator Hayley Piel. Picture: Hugh Brown

Read more about the Coke Ovens Closure

History in the making

Sun sets on coal in GREENSTEEL voyage

The forefront of industry in their day

Coke Ovens family in pictures

Pictures: Hugh Brown

Coke Ovens Shift 2 on their penultimate shift.

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