27 Mar 2009

Fisher and Paykel won't rule out job layoffs

7:10 am on 27 March 2009

Fisher & Paykel Appliances says it cannot rule out redundancies, despite accepting government help to save jobs at its Auckland refrigerator assembly plant.

The manufacturer says it has negotiated with workers to move to a 35-hour working week, to prevent 60 redundancies. It says the move should give the plant's 300 workers greater job security.

The company is also hopeful that demand for its products will increase by the time the government scheme expires in September, so it can retain all staff at the Auckland plant.

However, Fisher & Paykel says it cannot guarantee the jobs of the rest of its 1,400-strong workforce, because of the uncertainty of the market.

The Government and the company will split the cost of giving workers an extra 3.5 hours pay per week, and 1.5 hours will be taken as paid leave.

The Council of Trade Unions says the move may reassure other companies looking to do the same. President Helen Kelly says this is proof the scheme can work, and companies considering taking part could contact Fisher & Paykel for advice.

Prime Minister John Key said in Parliament on Wednesday that the employees will attend an in-house training and upskilling programme for the balance of the time, paid for by Fisher & Paykel.

"This is a great example of Government, business, unions, employees all working together - a successful programme," he told the House.

Fisher & Paykel Appliances chief executive John Bongard says the six-month deal will prevent the loss of 60 jobs. "By the time the scheme finishes in September, we'll be winding into what we hope will be a bumper summer season. So the production rates will be higher and those people will be gainfully employed for the full 40 hours."

However, Mr Bongard says he cannot rule out job losses elsewhere in the company, either in New Zealand or offshore.

Include more companies, says Labour

Labour Party leader Phil Goff says though the Government's scheme will save Fisher & Paykel jobs, it should be available to more companies and the threat to other jobs needs to be addressed.

"It's a fraction of the jobs being lost every week in New Zealand. I regret that the nine-day working fortnight has not encompassed small companies, where most jobs are being lost," he said outside Parliament.

"I regret also that the skilled training component, or the funding of that, has been taken out, which will make it less attractive to workers and to companies."