Hillside hopes dashed

A petition to save Hillside jobs has been rejected by a parliamentary select committee.

The majority decision not to bring the petition to the attention of the House has been labelled an "erosion of democracy" by the Labour Party and an "utter disgrace" by the Rail and Maritime Transport Union.

Last August, the transport and industrial relations select committee received a petition, signed by 13,854 people, including many South Dunedin residents. The petition was instigated by former RMTU employee George Laird, of Wellington.

The petition demanded the Government take immediate action to ensure KiwiRail did not reduce its workforce at the Hillside and Woburn rail engineering workshops and called for the state-owned enterprise to commit to building rolling stock instead of outsourcing contracts to China.

KiwiRail cut 44 jobs at its rail engineering division at the Hillside workshops last June, a decision the RMTU blamed on the Government's refusal to step in and stop contracts from going overseas.

Union organiser John Kerr said the select committee decision was an "utter disgrace".

"It demonstrates how KiwiRail is a mere puppet of the Government." No reasons were given for the majority decision.

The Labour Party's minority view objected to the decision.

"The principle that underpins the right for New Zealand citizens to initiate a petition to Parliament is an important part of our democracy. [We] believe the majority decision to stifle the right of the petitioners to present a case to a committee of Parliament is an erosion of democracy," it said.

There was growing unease about the quality of wagons being built in China and being brought into New Zealand.

The committee should have had the opportunity to examine these issues and provide transparency on the quality of decision-making by KiwiRail, the party said in the decision.

Labour Party Dunedin South MP Clare Curran said Kiwirail was asked to respond to the petition, but no-one else had been.

"Hillside workers and their union and no-one else was allowed to provide a submission or appear before the committee. It makes a farce of the democratic process and makes you wonder.

"What's the point of having a petition if the Government is so arrogantly going to ignore nearly 14,000 people who bothered to sign it?"

KiwiRail recently advertised for six people to begin rail engineering work at Hillside on six-month contracts.

A spokeswoman for the SOE said a shortlist had been prepared and it was expected to finish "the process" in the next couple of weeks.




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