Another foundry's future shaky

Another 74 foundry workers in Dunedin face an uncertain future after Bradken confirmed it was moving its Hillside staff to a four-day week.

The Dunedin staff were told of the change on Tuesday and would begin reduced hours next week, Bradken mining and transport group executive general manager Bradley Ward confirmed from Australia yesterday.

The change followed a downturn in demand within New Zealand for the company's products, which were produced for the rail, forestry, heavy engineering and manufacturing industries, he said.

It was hoped the move would last only a few weeks, but the company would have to consider ''other action'' if it were to continue.

However, that was ''pure speculation'', he said.

''We're not expecting to have to do that.''

The announcement came just a day after Esco Dunedin confirmed it was to close its foundry near the city's waterfront by the end of the year, with the loss of 34 jobs.

That news was greeted with regret by Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull, who said the loss of so many skilled jobs was ''a real blow'' for the city.

He hoped those losing their jobs could be taken on by other engineering firms in the city, who were said to struggle to recruit skilled workers for certain roles.

Union representative Stephen Scandrett, of the Amalgamated Workers Union and the Manufacturers and Construction Union, poured cold water on that idea in a statement yesterday.

He said the loss of so many jobs was ''devastating'', but the specialist nature of their work - and the decline of engineering in the city - meant they would struggle to find new jobs in Dunedin.

''Given the closure of Hillside workshops and the constant struggle of similar companies in the current climate, the recruitment of any staff to any positions would be a miracle.

''The workers are obviously worried about finding new jobs in Dunedin where manufacturing is in a shrinking spiral,'' Mr Scandrett said.

Foundry work was ''one of the toughest and dirtiest ways to make a living'', he said.

''It's hard on workers' bodies and families alike, and the skill set these workers have built up over many years cannot easily be deployed to other areas.''

Bradken Dunedin's move to a four-day week came two years after it took over the Hillside foundry on a five-year lease from KiwiRail, as part of a push to expand its operations.

Bradken Dunedin management declined to comment when contacted yesterday, but a worker at the foundry told the Otago Daily Times the expansion plan appeared not to have worked.

Work had dried up in the past month and staff had been handed notices on Tuesday outlining the change, the worker said.

They had also been told the company hoped a pick-up in orders would improve the situation in six weeks, although staff worried things could get worse.

Mr Ward said it was ''hard to say'' what was behind the downturn, but - based on the recent history of work orders - he remained optimistic.

''We're hoping it [reduced hours] is temporary and we can go back to full shifts with the full crew of people.

''If we had a view that it was permanent, we'd take other action, but we're not expecting to do that.''

Otago Chamber of Commerce chief executive Dougal McGowan said businesses faced a tough environment, but Esco's job losses were ''obviously devastating''.

The chamber would do what it could to help staff and companies in need, including trying to help find new roles for Esco's workers, he said.

''We've got to look to provide solutions for them within the city around future employment options, and how we can facilitate that.''

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