Cuts will affect Doc's Dunedin office

The Otago conservancy office in Dunedin will be affected by the Department of Conservation's plans to cut 100 jobs in the organisation, but it is not yet known to what extent.

The department told its 1800 staff yesterday the job cuts would come from office-based support functions at its national office in Wellington, and regional conservancy offices, including in Dunedin.

Otago conservator Marian van der Goes yesterday referred the Otago Daily Times to Doc spokesman Rory Newsam in Wellington for comment.

Mr Newsam said the effect on the Dunedin office was not yet known, but Otago's area offices in Central Otago, Coastal Otago, Wakatipu and Wanaka would not be affected.

The jobs targeted would not be frontline ranger staff, but those in areas such as payroll, mapping, science, technical support, concessions and legal services, so would not impact on the department's core conservation work, Mr Newsam said.

Regional conservancy offices and the national office duplicated some support functions, so Doc planned to re-organise the support system to make it more co-ordinated.

Doc would work with staff and unions to identify affected positions and aimed to have disestablished these by the end of the year. The department had about 100 vacancies after imposing a freeze in April on hiring new staff .

PSA national secretary, Brenda Pilot, who represented 1500 Doc staff, said cutting 100 jobs would undermine Doc's effectiveness in protecting New Zealand's natural environment.

The PSA recognised the budget pressures Doc was under, which followed the $54 million slashed from its budget over four years in 2009.

Further cuts would turn Doc's efficiency drive into a purely cost-driven exercise that could affect the department's technical expertise, she said.

Staff had been dealing with uncertainty over job security for a long time and it caused tension, depression and lost productivity.

Green Party MP Kevin Hague said he could not believe Doc did not mention job cuts during Thursday's select committee hearing when its 2011-12 budget was discussed.

"Less than 24 hours later we're hearing about 100 job losses. It's not good enough."

The cuts would affect core areas, such as research and science, so must reduce the capacity of the department to do its job, he said. The centralising of services would mean the loss of specialised local knowledge.

Forest and Bird conservation advocate Nicola Vallance said the decision contrasted with the Government's decision in April to nearly double the number of people in the Ministry of Economic Development's unit aimed at expanding the oil and minerals industries.

Some of those whose jobs were under threat were likely to be people with strong scientific and technical experience.

"These skills are vital to ensure our beautiful wild places are protected and well managed."

Good decision-making about the future of conservation land was crucial to ensuring New Zealand maintained the clean green brand that underpinned key tourism and agricultural industries, she said.

Labour MP Ruth Dyson said the cuts would also affect local tourism and impact on the information available to visitors and to residents in regional centres.

"Cutting frontline staff is a short-sighted policy, which will have long-term negative consequences," she said.

- rebecca.fox@odt.co.nz

 

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