Casino staff 'thrown on scrap heap'

By Hayden Donnell

Christchurch casino. Photo / Supplied
Christchurch casino. Photo / Supplied

Workers have been thrown "on the scrap heap" by a redundancy offer from the owners of the earthquake-damaged Christchurch Casino, a union representative has claimed.

But Prime Minister John Key said casino management - including 50 per cent owner Sky City - are doing everything they can for workers.

Christchurch Casino has been closed since the deadly 6.3 magnitude February earthquake and it is uncertain when it may re-open.

More than 500 staff have received full pay since the earthquake last month at a cost of $410,000 per week.

Management put forward a redundancy package offering workers their accrued annual leave and entitlements adding up to four weeks pay on Saturday.

They were given until the end of today to accept or go on unpaid leave.

Service and Food Workers Union (SFWU) spokesman Len Richards said that deal was unfair and urged workers to reject it.

Though there are no redundancy clauses in the worker contracts, the casino had a social and economic responsibility to keep supporting them, he said.

"How many hundreds of millions of dollars have they taken out of Christchurch? Well now it's payback time. "I know there are shareholders tell them about the economic bottom line. But where do they get off throwing workers on the scrap heap?"

Richards called for workers to be offered the 18 weeks redundancy pay available to long-term employees at Sky City in Auckland.

One employee, who had been working at Christchurch Casino for 15 years, told him she felt betrayed and devalued by the offer, he said.

He urged Government to step in and set up a labour force commission to help find jobs for the casino employees and hundreds of other workers fearing for their futures in Christchurch.

"Christchurch will die without it. These are skilled people. They could find work. But there needs to be a service to match them with jobs.

"This is a disaster situation. It's like a war. Government needs to step in."

Prime Minister John Key said Sky City had done well to pay workers for the six weeks since the Christchurch earthquake struck.

He said the redundancy offer was fair.

"I think actually SkyCity are doing a very good job here, they've paid their workers for six weeks," he told Breakfast on TV One.

"They are saying if you leave at any time and you take your annual leave and you eventually decide to leave, we will still give you four weeks redundancy.

"I think in defence of SkyCity they are doing everything they can."

Key told Breakfast the Government has invested quarter of a billion dollars in economic assistance packages to Christchurch businesses and workers.

"We are certainly putting a lot of cash into trying to help those workers."

Christchurch Casino chief executive Brett Anderson said the offer reflected the post-quake economic reality.

"This is extremely unfortunate, however the reality is we are a business.

"We hope, at least through this process, our staff have the power to make a choice over their own future and not have one made for them," he said.

Anderson said Christchurch Casino was unable to predict what staffing requirements would be needed when it reopened; however, there were no guarantees that all staff would be re-employed immediately.

Staff had been asked to indicate their preferred position to Christchurch Casino by Monday.

"We are committed to staying in Christchurch's CBD and on our current site," said Anderson.

"We want to rebuild our business over a period of time as the city starts to recover from the effects of the earthquake."

However, Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee told TV3's The Nation the casino might be able to reopen somewhere else.

"I think one of the issues that we've got to discuss with the casino is whether or not they can reopen with their license in another location if it's possible, "he said.

Casino licences were geographically specific, but Brownlee said the Earthquake Recovery Bill could give the flexibility for the premises to move.

Richards said staff should be kept on full pay until more information is known about the future of the casino.

"They say it could reopen in May. Why not keep them on full pay for a few more weeks until they know?"

All staff have been guaranteed payment up to April 5.

Those staff who choose to take redundancy will receive their accrued leave plus entitlements in line with their employment agreements that equate to four weeks pay.

Christchurch Casino remains in Zone 4 of the Civil Defence cordon and has a yellow sticker. Engineering inspections of the building have not identified any substantive damage to the premises or to property within it; some repair work will be needed before the casino can re-open.

WITH NZPA

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