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Jobs to go at KiwiRail after partial sale

Thursday 15 Nov 2012 2:00 p.m.

By 3 News online staff with NZN

Government-owned KiwiRail has sold off part of Dunedin’s Hillside Railway workshops.

Ninety of the workshop’s 115 workers face redundancies after the Government failed to sell the facility’s manufacturing plant, forcing it into a likely closure.

Longtime rail worker Les Ingram, who's been at the plant for 13 years, says he's "gutted" by today's news.

“I’m gutted; the axe has just fallen on 90 jobs. Hillside is more than a factory, it’s a symbol of what New Zealand used to be: proud, courageous, strong, leader of the world in the 50s, 40s, and 30s.”

The facility’s foundry has been sold to Bradken, an Australian heavy engineering company, who will continue to employ 16 of the original staff. 

The sale is expected to be completed early next year with Bradken continuing to operate the site, including supplying parts to KiwiRail as required. 

KiwiRail will also continue to operate its heavy lift facility as a freight business, retaining eight of the original staff.

The Hillside workshop will be progressively closed down over the coming months, as work is either completed or transferred to workshops near Wellington.

Partial sale ‘body blow’ for workers

The Rail and Maritime Transport Union (RMTU) has described the move as a “body blow” for workers.

Acting general secretary Todd Valster blames KiwiRail’s board for the decision. 

“KiwiRail management and the workforce have exhausted every option to try and keep the workshops going”, he says, “but their hands have been tied by a board that is packed with ideologically driven political appointees who slavishly follow National’s line that people’s livelihoods must be left to the whim of the market.”

The Government has been trying to sell the facility since April, but has had trouble finding a buyer for the entire workshop.

But Labour's Dunedin MPs, Clare Curran and David Clark, say KiwiRail was acting under a government directive to close part of the rail.

"The decision to close part of Hillside is an act of economic sabotage," they said in a joint statement.

"Under this government there will never be a train built in Dunedin again. This is terrible news for the city."

KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn was disappointed they couldn't ensure a buyer, claiming the company had preformed an extensive international search for a new owner.

“Despite a rigorous sales campaign there simply wasn’t a buyer out there for the whole operation,” he says.  

Mr Quinn said the decision to sell Hillside was made after an analysis of workshops across the country. It was concluded that there was not enough work to cover the costs to run the site, particularly when the existing rail capital projects end. 

“KiwiRail alone could not afford the future operating costs to keep Hillside open in the face of this decreasing work,” he says.  

“Many will be sad about its closure, however change is necessary as we continue to build a sustainable rail business for the challenges ahead.” 

3 News / NZN

Watch the video for an interview with longtime rail worker Les Ingram

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