Job-loss threat over Hamilton rail
Cuts point to privatisation - unionLOUISE RISK
As many as 80 Waikato jobs could be on the line if KiwiRail proceeds with proposed job cuts.
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The state-owned enterprise, which employs 4100 staff, announced yesterday up to 220 of its 1000 infrastructure and engineering staff could be culled as the company looks to reduce planned expenditure by $200m over the next three years.
However, industry players perceive the cuts to be the Government preparing the company for privatisation.
KiwiRail general manager of infrastructure and engineering, Rick van Barneveld said 80 of the 1000 staff were Waikato based, but no proposals had been made as to where the redundancies might come from.
"While infrastructure and engineering has made solid progress over the last couple of years in upgrading the national and metropolitan rail networks, we are now operating in tough trading conditions compounded by the Christchurch earthquakes," he said.
Accordingly, the planned expenditure of $950m would be reduced to $750m over the next three years.
Mr van Barneveld said cutting staff was just one of a range of cost-saving measures being considered, and that the consultation was at "the very early stages", with Invercargill staff only told of the potential job losses yesterday.
"Reducing our network spend over the next three years helps to bring our investment curve back behind our earnings growth.
"Making these changes to our original plan will help ensure KiwiRail remains on target to achieve financial sustainability by 2020."
Earlier this year KiwiRail announced it was selling its Hillside railway engineering workshop in Dunedin, where 130 people were employed.
And last month KiwiRail announced it would restructure and shift its land holdings to a new entity, with a write-down of about $6.7b.
But Rail and Maritime Transport Union national president Aubrey Wilkinson said the Government seemed to be preparing KiwiRail for "the chop".
Under changes coming into effect in January next year, KiwiRail's freight, infrastructure, passenger and ferry businesses, rolling stock, rail infrastructure, plant and equipment will be transferred to a new state-owned enterprise.
Mr Wilkinson said yesterday's announcement was unexpected, but in many respects it was "same thing, different year" for an industry that had been sold or restructured several times in the past three decades.
"It's not the first time the rail industry has been through this," he said.
"Each time that happens there's a loss of confidence from the workers."
Mr Wilkinson had had no indication whether the job losses would be spread across the country or from one region either.
"It's too early to say what the numbers are.
"What I can tell you is they have been doing workshops nationwide."
And he reiterated it was still early days and just a proposal.
"It's probably the worst proposal they could come up with, but it's a proposal."
Mr Wilkinson said some of the ideas the union had to save money without redundancies included reducing consultancy work, reducing the stock imported rather than made in New Zealand, having fewer costly legal disputes and ensuring ACC costs were controlled.
General secretary of the Rail and Maritime Transport Union Wayne Butson said workers had "listened politely" to a management presentation, but were overwhelmingly against KiwiRail's proposals.
Major investment and much more work needed to be done to restore New Zealand's track and infrastructure to its pre-early 1990s privatisation standard, Mr Butson said.
"Now is not the time to be shedding staff while this work takes place."
NZ First transport spokesman Brendan Horan said a "very reliable source" expected a further 100 jobs would go from KiwiRail by the end of 2013.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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