Media gag imposed on KiwiRail staff

Hillside workers have been prohibited from speaking to media about the threat of looming job cuts, after KiwiRail bosses issued a communications policy to employees yesterday - three months after it took effect.

KiwiRail communications manager Kimberley Brady, of Wellington, said the timing of the media policy, issued to 1000 supervisors and managers around the country on Tuesday, is unrelated to a proposal to cut up to 70 jobs nationwide.

The Otago Daily Times obtained a copy of the media policy, which is dated March 29, 2011, after it was issued to Hillside employees yesterday morning.

KiwiRail announced its proposal to axe the jobs from its rail engineering and design operations last month, with South Dunedin outfit Hillside earmarked to be the hardest hit.

The state-owned enterprise wants to cut 40 jobs at Hillside and 30 from its Woburn workshop in Lower Hutt and design team in Wellington, a proposal the Rail and Maritime Transport Union blames on the outsourcing of manufacturing contracts to China firms.

Stalled negotiations between Hillside union delegates and KiwiRail bosses to discuss the proposed job losses resumed on Tuesday, the same day as the media policy was issued to employees.

Rail and Maritime Transport Union organiser John Kerr said the timing of the media policy was unfortunate "at the very least" and was in neither party's interest.

"It doesn't help our case, or KiwiRail's, and is a bit of a cock-up, really," he said.

While he personally believed the timing of the media policy release to employees "genuinely wasn't intended to co-incide" with ongoing consultations, the problem was Hillside workers would not believe the explanation.

"Our union members are absolutely incensed by this and KiwiRail will have a hard job trying to convince employees it is not part of a wider conspiracy," Mr Kerr said.

Ms Brady said the media policy was "one of several" within KiwiRail.

It was normal practice for organisations "anywhere" to have such policies in place, and it was "not unusual" for them to be distributed to employees in a timely manner.

The media policy would not prohibit KiwiRail Hillside employees, who are also elected RMTU delegates, from talking about union matters, Ms Brady said.

Hillside employees who spoke to media organisations in breach of the policy would "probably" be referred to the company's human resources team, she said.

matthew.haggart@odt.co.nz

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