Body blow: 'It's been tough'

Hillside workers leave a meeting with KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn, who yesterday announced...
Hillside workers leave a meeting with KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn, who yesterday announced 90 redundancies from the 115-strong workforce.
Hillside workers Les Ingram (left) and Stuart Johnstone are pessimistic about their chances of...
Hillside workers Les Ingram (left) and Stuart Johnstone are pessimistic about their chances of finding alternative work. Photos by Gerard O'Brien.

Hillside has survived two world wars and the Great Depression but not the National Government, angry workers say.

• Additional coverage of Hillside Engineering

"We are gutted. The axe has just fallen on 90 jobs," Les Ingram said yesterday after the announcement by KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn that just 25 of 115 positions would remain at the South Dunedin workshops.

Mr Ingram (59) started work at Hillside as a 17-year-old and now must apply for one of seven jobs in the heavy-lift department, where he has worked for the past eight years.

"I'm really concerned. I don't want to leave Dunedin because all my family are here. I'm pessimistic about my future. I think I'll find a job, but it won't be the skilled job that I deserve," he said.

KiwiRail's announcement was a "body blow" and far worse than workers expected after 211 days of uncertainty, Mr Ingram said.

"It's been pretty tough. Hillside is more than a factory; it's a symbol of what New Zealand used to be: proud, courageous, strong and a world leader in the 1940s and 1950s," he said.

He blamed the National Government for Hillside's demise, which he called a crime, and said the "guilty men" were Prime Minister John Key, Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce, Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee and KiwiRail board chairman John Spencer.

"KiwiRail management and the union have tried to find work and we believe there could have been work, but the Government has stopped it. The guys here want to work. They don't want a payout," he said.

As the Hillside branch secretary for the Rail and Maritime Transport Union (RMTU), Mr Ingram was intent on making sure redundant workers got everything to which they were entitled.

Employees had until the end of the month to comment on a consultation document they were given yesterday.

Mr Ingram said at least 24 workers were expected to finish on December 7 and another 48 on December 21, when existing projects were completed.

The remainder would leave in January.

Some would be given priority if applying for KiwiRail positions elsewhere in New Zealand, but most did not want to leave Dunedin, Mr Ingram said.

"We are a family. I live in this area and it's going to be really hard driving past Hillside."

RMTU Hillside branch chairman Stuart Johnstone said yesterday's news was "devastating", but at least it brought to a close a lengthy, anxious wait.

Workers felt a range of emotions and their anger was aimed purely at the Government, rather than KiwiRail, he said.

Mr Johnstone said KiwiRail had petitioned the Government for flat-deck wagons to be built at Hillside, but the proposal had been rejected.

KiwiRail's supposed independence was "complete utter rubbish", and the relevant ministers were pulling the strings.

"The Government has failed," Mr Johnstone said.

He had worked at Hillside for more than four of his eight years in Dunedin, and said he might have to leave the city to find work.

rosie.manins@odt.co.nz

 

 

 

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