Survey queries plans to shift staff

Just 1 per cent of union members at AgResearch are happy to relocate to Palmerston North as part of a planned restructure, a PSA survey says.

But AgResearch and Vision Manawatu have hit back at the "disappointing" release of the "misleading" statistics and say the reality is far more positive.

About 45 Crown research workers are to be relocated from AgResearch's Hamilton and Dunedin sites to Grasslands at Massey University's Palmerston North campus in 2016.

It will bring the number of workers in the department to 300.

The PSA says the relocation plan is stressful for staff and has cited a survey that it carried out on 177 of its AgResearch members as evidence.

One per cent indicated they were happy to relocate and a third of staff said they would leave the organisation rather than move to another city.

PSA national secretary Richard Wagstaff said staff were struggling to understand the rationale of the plans and struggling to deal with uncertainty around their work and future. "This survey should send a clear message to AgResearch about how staff feel."

The union and staff at AgResearch had concerns about the future ability of the organisation to deliver quality agricultural science in the wake of the job shifts, Mr Wagstaff said.

AgResearch chief executive Tom Richardson said the survey painted a "biased and misleading" picture.

"It is deeply disappointing that the survey has been released to the media before the PSA had any discussions with management or even the staff involved," Mr Richardson said. "The survey represents the views of less than a quarter of our staff and the wording of the questions was misleading and, in some cases, invalid from a scientific perspective. Put simply, it was a selective snapshot survey designed to deliver on a specific message."

Mr Richardson said he recognised that it would be hard for some people to have to contemplate moving to Palmerston North, but that was why they had provided three to four years for the transition.

"This is about better science, better delivery and better opportunities for our pastoral sector, our staff and New Zealand."

Vision Manawatu acting chief executive Rodney Wong said the survey showed a lack of understanding among AgResearch staff about the size and opportunities that Food HQ in Palmerston North would provide staff with.

"I'm a little disappointed that the PSA went public with this because it's unfair press - they're not shifting until 2016 and we're quietly working with them to make sure this sort of thing is not going to happen.

"Part of our role as Vision Manawatu is to make them feel welcome and help them assimilate into the community."

In Palmerston North there would be opportunities for promotion among a large group of like-minded scientists, and the ability to be associated with what Massey was doing at Food HQ would be exciting, Mr Wong said.

"I think they probably haven't had long enough to think about that," he said.

Manawatu Standard