Telecom staff won't be forced to work in CBD

MARTA STEEMAN
Last updated 05:00 04/08/2011

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The Christchurch central business district's biggest employer, Telecom, does not expect to return until the end of next year, mainly because many of its 1300 staff are reluctant to do so.

The company has spent the past five months finding alternative accommodation. Staff were accommodated mostly in two large buildings in Hereford St close to Cathedral Square before the February 22 earthquake.

Ralph Chivers, Telecom's programme director, Christchurch earthquake recovery, said yesterday Telecom might get "routine access" to the Hereford St buildings at the beginning of November when the area re-opened with the completion of the City Mall development between Colombo St and Oxford Tce. That included Ballantynes reopening and several retailers in temporary accommodation in time for Cup and Show Week.

"We are hopeful around about that time we will be able to get access. But we are not hanging our hats on that."

However, access would benefit its technical operations because "an awful lot of its critical equipment" was in that zone.

Its 109 Hereford St building was structurally sound but needed an internal refit. However, the next door building at 91 was yellow-stickered and awaited a full structural assessment.

Chivers said Telecom believed 91 was "reasonably sound".

No decision had been made on 91 but selling it was an option. Telecom was not looking at selling 109 which was a core part of its infrastructure in Christchurch, he said.

"All of the 1300 people were in the CBD on the day and some of their experiences were frankly dreadful. They thought they were going to die as a lot of them spilled out into the streets to see crushed cars and sights and sounds and smells that linger on."

Chivers said Telecom was being quite "conservative" in timing its return. It was a complex mix of considerations.

"We certainly don't want to force people back in. It's a really big issue for a lot of people."

Telecom's Trish Keith, in charge of the Christchurch Earthquake Recovery team, said in the company's magazine that the company had a working assumption it would not return to 109 "until the end of the next calendar year".

It had to decide if it was worth spending money on 91. The options for 91 included using it as a data centre, selling it or completely "repurposing" it.

"Certainly those who have talked to Trish about 91 have tended to tell her they will never set foot in the building again after the experience of February 22," the company magazine said.

"Obviously those feelings will hugely inform our eventual decision, says Trish."

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Telecom has not found permanent accommodation for all of its staff yet and "hot desking" continues. It is expected to end next April.

Telecom has staff working in various exchanges in the region and has established four hubs for staff while some will work permanently from home in the future.

THE HUBS

Workstation55 in Princess St, Addington, for about 350 staff.

The former Toy World building in Cranford St, Papanui, in the north of the city for about 150 staff.

Walker St, near Moorhouse Ave, within the four avenues, for about 220 staff.

New buildings in Garlands Rd, Opawa, in the southeast for about 140.

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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