City hit by rail job cuts

By John Maslin

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Wanganui-based KiwiRail staff will be among those talking with their bosses this week over pending staff cuts.

KiwiRail signalled looming redundancies in June but has since revised downwards the number of staff likely to be affected.

Originally, the company said 181 jobs were to be cut but has dropped that number by 23.

It means staff numbers in its infrastructure and engineering business will drop from 714 to 556, a total of 158 job losses.

Last month the Chronicle reported that 10 railway track workers based in Wanganui were among 243 in the lower North Island who have been invited to consider taking voluntary redundancy.

A KiwiRail spokesman told the Chronicle yesterday that staff based in Wanganui work carried out a range of work maintaining and upgrading the rail network. That includes general track maintenance and refurbishment work as well as signalling work at level crossings, alarms and other parts of the track.

The spokesman said the company could not go into detail about how many Wanganui workers would be affected. He said a start had been talking to staff yesterday and consultation was expected to be finished by Friday.

He said that meant working with affected staff whose jobs would go with a view to securing redeployment elsewhere in the business.

Rick van Barneveld, KiwiRail infrastructure and engineering general manager, said the company had worked closely with the union and staff to ensure all those affected had the information they needed and understood the process.

"We're pleased that more than 70 have taken up our offer of voluntary redundancy. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, some mandatory redundancies will be unavoidable," Mr van Barneveld said.

"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."

He said that restructuring 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."

He said KiwiRail had a future as a business that could 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."

Under its current plan, KiwiRail is looking at shedding 42 staff in its Northern region, 58 in the Central zone (which includes Wanganui), 40 in its Southern region, and a further 18 from its track machine team and Railweld.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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