Port Chalmers residents Stuart and Claudine Johnstone, with their daughters Lucy (2) and Imogen (18 weeks), have both lost their jobs and are reluctantly considering a move to Australia. Photo by Linda Robertson.
Stuart and Claudine Johnstone's dream of raising their
children in Dunedin has been shattered by the partial closure
of Hillside Engineering Workshops by KiwiRail, Mr Johnstone's
The fabrication worker learned last week he would be made
redundant, along with 89 other Hillside staff.
He expected to finish work on December 7, when his search for
alternative employment would begin in earnest.
KiwiRail's announcement after six months of sale negotiations
came at a difficult time for the family.
About two months ago Mrs Johnstone, an early childhood
teacher, lost her job when her place of employment was
It meant both parents would be unemployed at Christmas, with
young mouths to feed.
Mr Johnstone said he had considered other KiwiRail positions
outside of Dunedin, but the state-owned enterprise could not
offer job security because the Government was cutting its
investment in the rail network.
He said KiwiRail workers throughout New Zealand were worried,
and for good reason.
"No matter where you go, the message from KiwiRail workers is
the same. Other countries are bringing work home to support
workers, while the New Zealand Government is selling jobs
Mr Johnstone became involved in the Rail and Maritime
Transport Union when he started at Hillside in 2004 and is
now the branch chairman.
He and his wife moved to Port Chalmers from the Hunter Valley
in New South Wales to be closer to Mrs Johnstone's family in
A tradesman in the coal mining-support industry previously,
Mr Johnstone said Hillside was a great place to work.
The employees looked out for one another.
"It really is a big family environment."
He liked the idea of working for a nationalised rail company
and had looked forward to a career, not just a job, with
At the time of their arrival, employment and living
opportunities were better in New Zealand than in Australia,
but in the past three years those fortunes had been reversed,
Mr Johnstone said.
The strength of Hillside workers had been proved in their
ability to keep calm while their livelihoods hung in the
balance, he said.
"Through 211 days of absolute torture for some, there were
times when tensions rose and I think it speaks volumes of the
quality of the workforce that we didn't have any blow-ups in
that time. People were stressed, people were on edge, but
overall people stuck together."
A sting in the tail was the fact Hillside could have taken on
more work, if only the Government had let it, Mr Johnstone
"It's one thing when a place shuts down because there's no
work, but there is actually loads of work for railway workers
in New Zealand. More wagons are being built overseas for New
Zealand that we could and should be building at Hillside.
Despite their predicament, Mr and Mrs Johnstone were grateful
for what they had, having seen many others face redundancy.
Mr Johnstone said he would be paid until the end of January
and given a redundancy package.
Regardless, their Port Chalmers home would likely be empty
within two months as the family sought a living elsewhere.