Christmas is the season of lay-offs

By Susan Edmunds

Redundancies soar as employers take stock for the new year.

Miners at Spring Creek have felt the pain of recent job losses. Photo / NZ Herald
Miners at Spring Creek have felt the pain of recent job losses. Photo / NZ Herald

More people lose their jobs in the lead-up to Christmas than in other times of the year, as employers take stock and plan for the year ahead.

High-profile redundancies have made headlines over the past few weeks - 60 job losses are predicted at Rakon, 70 at Carter Holt Harvey plants, up to 60 at Dynamic Controls, plus others including at KiwiRail and Spring Creek mine.

An anonymous letter was sent to media outlets this week from someone claiming to be a Dick Smith worker, saying the retailer was cutting staff.

The electronics giant denied the claims.

The writer said he or she had had a pay cut of two-thirds, "leaving me struggling to get by, let alone buy Christmas presents".

There were almost twice as many reported redundancies in November compared with October this year, and last year followed the same pattern.

EPMU statistics showed 190 redundancies last month, compared with fewer than 100 in October.

December 2010 and 2011 recorded 150 redundancies each.

EPMU spokesman Ged O'Connell said: "There does seem to be a pattern towards the end of the year. Over the past three years, there have been about 250 redundancies each year over October, November and December."

There was also often another, smaller spike around July.

Associate professor Jane Parker of Massey University said there was a slew of lay-offs at the end of each year. "It's partly to do with firms wanting to tidy things up and start afresh in the new year."

But she said in some cases it was driven from other parts of the world. Firms with headquarters in the United States would operate on a Christmas financial year deadline, which had a knock-on effect in New Zealand.

Parker said it could cause problems because the consultation period around the redundancies was squeezed. There was often an increase in unfair dismissal claims around Christmas from people who felt the process had been rushed.

O'Connell said if a business was facing tough times, the approach of Christmas could force its hand because of the bill that came for things such as staff holiday pay.

"If a business has got some decisions to make, finding a holiday bill could precipitate some decision-making. It's also a natural end point to the year in production requirements."

He said businesses would also use this time of year to do their budgets.

But manufacturers tended to be reluctant to make people redundant because if things picked up again it was hard to find the staff to take on the work quickly. "But [Christmas] is a natural time to rethink. It's a costly time for businesses.

"If you get through it and then do [the redundancies] after, you're giving yourself a double whammy."

Peter Conway of the Council of Trade Unions said a "hell of a lot" of redundancies were under way. "There's sometimes a bit of a flurry, people lay people off to avoid holiday pay."

NZ Budgeting Federation chief executive Raewyn Fox said it was a difficult time to find employment for people who were made redundant. She said most businesses would not start hiring until late January.

But Employers and Manufacturers Association chief executive Kim Campbell said businesses tried hard to not make people redundant at Christmas. "Sending someone home at Christmas with a couple of weeks' pay in her pocket is cruel."

- Herald on Sunday

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