Christchurch law firm warns of job losses

16:00, Feb 28 2011

A small computer server box sitting on the back seat of a car parked just inside the gates of Christchurch's earthquake-damaged Forsyth Barr building could hold the employment fate of up to six law firm workers.

Similar recoverable assets are just out of their owners' grasp all across the cordoned-off central city area and Grant Cameron wants something done about it.

Cameron, principal of local law firm Grant Cameron and Associates, coordinated a desperate escape last Tuesday with staff abseiling to safety from the company's sixth floor offices.

Shaken by the quake, scared by the scene of devastation at the nearby Pyne Gould Corporation building and without any other means of escape, staff launched themselves out the window one after another.

Cameron, who is an ex-police officer, teamed with another army-trained solicitor and an experienced mountaineer from the Ombudsmen's office on the same floor to get dozens of staff to safety.

With his last few moments left in the building while waiting for his own rescue courtesy of the Fire Service, Cameron also lowered his computer servers to waiting staff members who packed them into a vehicle and attempted to exit the building's carpark.


However the carpark gates were jammed shut and the staff members had to be freed by the Fire Service, leaving the servers agonisingly close to freedom, said Cameron.

"With the servers that are situated in that car we would be 100 percent self-sufficient, we wouldn't be making the insurance claims that otherwise we would be making, we wouldn't have staff that would be requiring any sort of subsidy.

"We're a law firm employing about 14 people - in theory we would probably, within a week or two, be having to seriously consider whether or not there could be five or six staff made redundant."

The scenario is being played out all over the city as professional and service-based businesses face the threat of losing clients.

"When you multiply that out over the 50,000 or so people in the CBD, and let's say you even save 5 or 10 percent on insurance claims or subsidies, there are tens of millions of dollars at stake here."

Cameron was speaking before yesterday's announcement of employee support packages by the government, but he says even subsidies won't bring lost clients back.

"Whether it's one month or two months of subsidies from the government I'm still going to have to make those staff redundant becuase I no longer have that business that I had before," said Cameron.

He has suggested sending economic recovery teams into the cordoned off area to see what can be salvaged before the damage to Christchurch's businesses become irreversible.

Each team would have Fire Service members to ensure a safe journey and a civil engineer to assess whether each building can be entered or not, said Cameron.

He said the Forsyth Barr building has been "red-stickered" and slated for demolition because the stair-well, all 17 floors of which collapsed immediately after the quake, could not be repaired.

But Cameron can't help but hope that small black box can somehow be saved, along with the future of his business.