Staff angry over Invermay cuts

Staff at Invermay are angry at their treatment by AgResearch management after being told the organisation is sticking with plans to slash jobs at the Dunedin facility.

The comments were made by an Invermay scientist, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of losing his job, after AgResearch chief executive Tom Richardson announced yesterday that, following staff consultation, it was sticking to its ''core plan'' revealed about two months ago.

There had been small changes to the original plan, with a ''couple'' more science roles staying at Invermay, about six more jobs staying at Ruakura - after ''discussions'' with a yet-to-be-named university - about 10 more jobs at Grasslands and about 21 fewer jobs at Lincoln. If the plan went ahead, about 82 jobs would go from Invermay.

"Our overall principle of having a large campus within each of the agriculture innovation hubs at Palmerston North and Lincoln ... remains central to our thinking,'' Dr Richardson said.

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull, part of a delegation protesting the changes, said he was ''profoundly disappointed'' at the outcome.

The anonymous Invermay scientist, who said he would be ''sacked tomorrow'' if he was identified, said ''pretty much'' all staff had given up hope of more jobs being kept at Invermay.

Despite appreciating ''the likes of Dave Cull standing up for Otago'' he felt efforts to save jobs had been ''a futile exercise''.

Most staff felt it was a ''done decision'' even before staff consultation, and were generally unhappy with the way the process had been handled.

"There is a lot of ill feeling about the senior management team and the perception is certainly that the likes of Tom Richardson can just do whatever they like [and move on]. There is an issue of lack of accountability there.

"Even if AgResearch did change its mind before opening the new Lincoln hub, the way it had handled the project had already alienated many staff.

"This project has created fundamental mistrust between the managerial layers of the company and its scientists and research associates and I think the company will wear that, regardless of what happens, for the foreseeable future.''

Many staff were also angry they had been gagged from speaking to the media and felt management had not left any room for dissent, with staff behaviour being monitored.

"There are some of us who would like to put a vote of no confidence in ... AgResearch management, but that would basically mean being sacked tomorrow,'' he said.

The ''vast majority'' of staff, himself included, would stay in Dunedin for a number of reasons, including the cost of property at Lincoln, the fact many had spouses working in the city, job security and the continued risk of earthquakes in Canterbury.

"Take my case. I have got a spouse working in Dunedin, I have got family in Dunedin, so children in Dunedin.

"I've got the issue of my job only being guaranteed for two years after they shift me to Lincoln.''

The scientist's comments that the decision was a ''done deal'' conflicted with what Dr Richardson told the media yesterday.

He said the door remained open for those fighting to keep more jobs at Invermay and there was ''no such thing as a final decision on the shape of our campuses''.

"No relocations are scheduled before 2016, so there is ample time for these discussions to occur. Our plans will continue to evolve as new opportunities present themselves.''

If it was proven that keeping jobs in Dunedin provided ''better value for New Zealand agriculture'' AgResearch would be open to retaining extra staff, Dr Richardson said.

''Our current plans we do believe maximise national benefit. If something shifts and national benefit is delivered by a different configuration, then that's what AgResearch is here to do.''

It would continue to meet stakeholders - including Mr Cull - over its plans and was open to ''evolving them''.

''Clearly, if opportunities emerge where [changing] the size, shape or distribution of our teams to deliver value back to the region and to New Zealand is the right thing to do, then we will evolve our plan.''

''We have met with Mayor Cull and we will be back in a couple of weeks to follow through with some other discussions with representatives of the [delegation of southern leaders].''

He pointed out discussions with the yet-to-be-named university had resulted in more jobs being kept at its Ruakura campus.

- vaughan.elder@odt.co.nz

 

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