AgResearch confirms redundancies

AgResearch have announced that 51 staff members will be mande redundant in 2016.
Chris Hillock

AgResearch have announced that 51 staff members will be mande redundant in 2016.

AgResearch has confirmed that 78 staff members will lose their jobs from changing needs within the science sector.

The bulk of the redundancies are at the Crown Research Institute's Grasslands Campus in Palmerston North with 38 jobs going. There are also 19 jobs axed at its Lincoln Campus, six at Invermay and 15 at its Ruakura campus in Hamilton. Of the redundancies, 32 of the roles are scientists while 46 are technicians.

At the same time, AgResearch had begun recruiting 18 new scientist roles and nine new technician roles in 2016. These new jobs were in areas of growing private sector and Government investment and 10 of these new roles (six scientists and four technicians) have already been filled.

That meant a net reduction of  51 employees - 14 scientist and 37 technician roles nationwide in 2016, five fewer than the original proposal of 15 scientists and 41 technicians announced on September 24, AgResearch chief executive Tom Richardson said.

"This decision follows a robust consultation process with our staff. We received nearly 100 submissions, which were analysed by a team of AgResearch staff, including science staff.  They endorsed the bulk of the proposed changes; and recommended a small number of changes to the proposal, which we've taken on board."

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Richardson said it had been a tough decision. Some of the scientists and technicians losing their jobs had been with the research organisation a long time and had made a big difference to scientific discovery in New Zealand.

"This is not about scientists not doing a good job, this is not about scientists that have not made a huge difference."

Richardson said the immediate next step would be to see which of the people being made redundant could fit into the new roles being offered within AgResearch.

He said these redundancies were separate from its Future Footprint programme.

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Richardson said the changes were consistent with its science strategy and shifts in sector need and research and development investment. The redundancies reflected a change in emphasis among science topics.

In agricultural greenhouse gas research for example, that meant a change from how it happened in the initial 'discovery' research to 'validation' research, which focused on testing the tools to mitigate emissions, without completely shutting down that first discovery step, he said.

"We are not stopping greenhouse gas research...we are saying we are going to put less effort into 'discovery' and those roles would be affected. We are growing the validation steps."

Whether there were roles in the validation team for discovery scientists and technicians was yet to be determined.

Richardson confirmed there would be no more redundancies this year. All of the affected staff were on contracts and their final days would be based on individual discussions with those staff.

He was optimistic about future opportunities for the next generation of scientists coming through New Zealand's universities.

There were growth areas that were attracting talent within New Zealand and overseas and many were excited about AgResearch's Future Footprint plan.

They looked at science careers differently to critics and commentators who were scientists 20 years ago. While scientists wanted job stability, they did not want careers for life and New Zealand remained a great place for those scientists to base their research at.

"They want talented colleagues, they want good facilities and campuses to work on and particularly for Kiwi scientists, they want to make a difference for New Zealand."

However, former AgResearch scientist Doug Edmeades said it was the public's perception of AgResearch that was important rather than Richardson's.

"It seems a very unstable organisation and has been for the last 30 years and no amount of reassurance from him will change that."

The confirmation of job losses came as no surprise to Edmeades, who said Richardson was being handicapped by a "crazy" science policy and funding system.

He said AgResearch had become largely irrelevant to farmers if one stepped back and looked at 25 years of reform at the crown research organisation.

"This is tinkering around while the Titanic is sinking. If you stand back far enough and see what these reforms have done to science over the last 25 years you can see that agricultural science is becoming increasingly irrelevant to the very people it's trying to appeal to, the farmers."

Waikato University Professor of Agribusiness Jacqueline Rowarth said she was worried what message these redundancies sent to the next generation of scientists.

"I am really concerned having visited schools yesterday that children are not seeing the point of doing science because it was not valued in this country."

NB: Rowarth's comments have been amended to reflect that there will not be any redundancies as a result of the Future Footprint Programme.

 - Stuff

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