Shock at speed of Macraes lay-offs

Calvin Fisher.
Calvin Fisher.
The speed at which Oceana Gold has pushed through job cuts at Macraes gold mine has shocked workers and the fall-out is expected to continue with losses at other firms.

Amalgamated Workers Union New Zealand secretary Calvin Fisher said that last Thursday and Friday, Oceana Gold made about 76 of its open-pit staff redundant, less than two weeks after the cuts were announced as a response to falling gold prices.

''That took place on commencement of shifts over the three shift cycle. People were brought in by bus ... letters were issued and those affected by the decision were bussed off the site.''

This meant ''well over 100 people'', including the 39 Gough Group employees who serviced vehicles at the mine and non-pit staff, had been laid off in the past two weeks.

The number made redundant since last September would be ''up around 150''.

''The speed with which the company prepared a plan surprised a lot of them and they probably didn't see it coming as clearly as they perhaps could have.''

Many senior staff laid off - who felt their experience meant they would keep their jobs - were also surprised at the ''skill mix'' of the people kept on.

The fallout from the cuts would continue as smaller contractors, including engineering firms, fuel companies and the bus company which transported staff to the mine, were forced to lay off staff.

''There is a domino effect and it's impacting on those smaller companies.

''Its significance to the community is enormous.''

The downturn in the mining sector in New Zealand and overseas and the lack of work requiring similar skills in the Otago area - such as large infrastructure projects - meant it would be difficult for the redundant workers to find new jobs.

''The real tragedy of this is that ... the provincial economy for people with these skills has not been going ahead.''

Some staff had told him they regretted not finding work in the mining sector elsewhere in recent years.

''Had they gone, they might have been redundant elsewhere, because there are many thousands of miners out of work in the industry, because of the global drop in commodity prices,'' Mr Fisher said.

He did not blame the company for the job losses and said its plan to ''more or less'' secure jobs for the remaining workforce - which still exceeded 400 - until at least the middle of next year was a good one, given the ''volatility'' of the gold market.

He was also grateful the company accepted voluntary redundancies and that it did the ''right thing'' in terms of the redundancy package for the laid-off staff.

He encouraged laid-off staff to attend a meeting being held this Friday, which would be attended by an employment specialist from Winz.

SGS New Zealand business manager Hugh McMillan said the laboratory testing company, which had 30 staff at Macraes providing a range of services, was yet to make any staff redundant and was waiting to ''see how things unfold''.

RedBull Powder Company Ltd managing director Peter Shapiro, a provider of blasting services to Macraes, said it was ''working through'' the situation with Oceana Gold and could not comment on whether the cuts would affect its staff numbers.

Oceana Gold did not respond to questions yesterday.

vaughan.elder@odt.co.nz

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