Auckland sharks taking Foodstuffs jobs: mayor

HAMISH RUTHERFORD
Last updated 05:00 11/02/2014

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Dozens of Upper Hutt jobs could disappear or be shifted to Auckland as Foodstuffs pushes forward with its merger plans.

Last September the food giant, which owns the New World, Pak 'n Save and Four Square stores, began merging its upper and lower North Island operations.

The company initially gave assurances that redundancies would be "minimal" and said the merger was designed to position the company - a co-operative owned by franchise holders - for growth.

But Upper Hutt Mayor Wayne Guppy says the region has been misled by Foodstuffs and has described the situation as a "hostile takeover".

He had spoken to staff at the Silverstream operation, which had more than 300 staff when the merger began, and it was clear that it was worse for the Wellington region than he had been led to believe, he said.

"What was going to be a merger has become a very hostile takeover and the Auckland sharks are devouring it."

Upper Hutt was the lower North Island headquarters for Foodstuffs, housing mostly white-collar staff.

Since the merger, senior management in Silverstream had been "gutted", with only one of the top eight jobs remaining in Wellington, Guppy said.

Other positions in the merged business were available only in Auckland.

He was disappointed with the process, after being given assurances Wellington had nothing to fear from the merger.

"We were told, 'No worries, there's no need for you guys to even be concerned about this because it will have no impact. It won't be an issue.'

"It's certainly not what we were told and I'm sure not what the region was told."

Murray Jordan, Foodstuffs North Island managing director, said that the business was opening new stores in the Wellington region and would continue to increase its overall presence.

So far there had been 28 redundancies in Silverstream, compared with nine in Auckland, although the merger would take up to three years to complete.

He refused to say how many staff would be employed at Silverstream at the end of the process, or give an assurance the number would be more than 100, saying it would be wrong to do so while consultation was ongoing.

"We will go in and consult, and have been fair and will continue to be very fair with all of our divisions."

A source working at the Silverstream operation said the atmosphere was "toxic" as staff struggled with uncertainty over their future.

Most of the redundancies so far had been from the property and human resources teams, but more were expected to go soon from the product team, where up to 60 positions could be affected.

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Over the next 18 months, as other teams were merged, it was expected that most positions would be lost in Wellington, although many affected staff were being told new roles were available in Auckland, the source said.

Guppy said he would raise the merger at the next Wellington region mayoral forum, saying it would affect families who lived throughout the region.

If staff were offered jobs in Auckland it would be of little benefit to Wellington.

- The Dominion Post

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