Rail jobs to be axed

Last updated 05:00 24/09/2012

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Kiwirail management says mandatory redundancies are an "unavoidable" consequence of its restructuring.

Waikato rail workers will learn whether they still have a job this week as KiwiRail reveals the extent of its nationwide job cuts.

But industry insiders say morale among Waikato rail workers has plummeted as the state-owned enterprise looks to shave $200 million from its books over the next three years.

And there could be more pain to come with talk of a second round of job cuts in March.

KiwiRail is set to announce 158 job cuts across the country today, with infrastructure and engineering staff taking the brunt of redundancies.

Critics say the cuts are part of the Government's plans to privatise the company.

KiwiRail Infrastructure and Engineering General Manager, Rick van Barneveld, said that staff will be informed this week which roles are going to be disestablished.

"We’ve worked very closely with the union and staff to ensure all those affected have the information they need, and understand the process.

"We’re pleased that more than seventy have taken up our offer of voluntary redundancy. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, some mandatory redundancies will be unavoidable. At this stage we don’t know the final number as every effort will be made to retain the skills and talents of our staff by finding other opportunities for them at KiwiRail."

KiwiRail spokesman Nick Gowland earlier confirmed the company would begin notifying staff of job cuts today but would not say how many Waikato jobs would go.

"We are finalising how many people will be affected in consultation with our staff and the unions," he said.

"But we won't be making any public announcement until we have notified our staff.

"They are our first priority."

Waikato workers will meet tomorrow morning to discuss the cuts.

Rail and Maritime Transport Union officials declined to say how many Waikato jobs could be on the line despite speculation the region would be "hit hard".

KiwiRail employs 4100 staff nationwide.

NZ First MP Brendan Horan said 74 of the 158 cut jobs would be voluntary redundancies.

"A lot of those voluntary redundancies will be older people who want to get out of the industry but for the rest of the workers they won't know their fate," he said.

"Waikato will feel the sting of these job losses and families will be hit hard.

"It's appalling and disgusting that KiwiRail are getting rid of its workers when its network is in desperate need of repair."

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He said further job cuts would be announced in March.

Meanwhile, the railway line through the Kaimai Tunnel was closed for three hours last week after a train driver reported "track irregularity" along the section.

The irregularity was detected after planned maintenance work on the track.

Also this month a Veolia train driver received minor injuries when a rotten wooden sleeper gave way on an Auckland rail bridge.

The man was coupling two trains when the sleeper gave way beneath his feet.

The incident follows a KiwiRail announcement last month that 7000 imported wooden sleepers in its network were defective and needed replacing.

About 55 decaying sleepers have been identified in the Waikato.

Mr Horan said cutting rail staff would only aggravate maintenance problems across the network.

"All these incidents show KiwiRail's tracks and equipment are in a state of disrepair. For KiwiRail to say they're going to get rid of staff is crazy and just shows their turnaround plan is insane.

"We've seen this happen before when the Government flogged off the rail network for a song in 1993. Back then there was a mass exodus of skilled rail workers and we're again seeing that.

"A third of those who lose their jobs will go into contract work, a third will end up on welfare and a third will go to Australia.

"These are workers have very specific skills and are very sought after.

"The taxpayer helped train these workers so it's a disaster to lose them overseas."

Mr van Barneveld said that the restructure of the Infrastructure and Engineering business was part of a wider programme to rebalance KiwiRail’s priorities in response to continuing economic uncertainty.

"Like most businesses, we haven’t been immune to the effects of a sluggish economy. Delivering this kind of news to our people is never easy. But it’s a necessary step for us to achieve the savings we need to make the improvements to the rail network that customers want.

"KiwiRail has a future as a business that can earn enough money to pay its own way - but it has to be different to what has failed before. We still intend to spend $750 million on the network over the next three years, which is around four times more than what was spent in 2004-5.

aaron.leaman@waikatotimes.co.nz

- Waikato Times

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