26 Mar 2019

KiwiRail hunts for skilled staff after influx of work

10:50 am on 26 March 2019

Rail workshops are looking for more mechanical engineers, as the industry's workload ramps up providing jobs for an extra 40 workers at KiwiRail's Hutt workshop.

KAIKOURA, NEW ZEALAND - DECEMBER 10: KiwiRail DXC 5520 Diesel Locomotive passenger train waiting at station in Kaikoura, New Zealand

Photo: 123RF

Just over six years ago, the rail workshop at Hillside in Dunedin laid off 90 staff, with just seven staff left.

David Barclay lost his job at Hillside workshop after working there for 36 years. "I was always thinking when Hillside did shut down that it was a bad decision, because there may have been a lack of work but they could've cut back and kept on more staff to carry out different projects throughout rail. I think they just sort of cut and run."

Mr Barclay has since been re-employed at Hillside working on log wagon conversions, as the site picks up the surplus of work from the Hutt workshop where workers are busy constructing carriages for the Auckland to Hamilton train service.

Three new apprentices have been hired at Hillside, but Mr Barclay said that still doesn't cover the demand for trained workers.

"When I first started at Hillside, the normal intake was about 25 apprentices a year to 30 apprentices a year. As Hillside closed down, there was no training opportunities around town so that led to people going offshore and earning money in Australia and places like that and the trained, skilled staff dropped off big time."

No planning done for influx of work, union boss says

Rail and Maritime Union secretary Wayne Butson said that the industry didn't know it would have such an influx of work.

"Rail was completely unprepared for what would be asked of it because, of course, we've had a succession of leadership within the rail business which has talked about consolidating rail and its core business."

In the last two years, the rail workforce at Hillside has gained an extra six workers, while Mr Butson said there have been about an extra 12 workers at Hutt. He believed that demand was expected to continue.

"With the government's decision to refurbish the electric locomotives on the main trunk, that has now created too much work for Hutt and in fact there will be some spillover into Hillside."

Mr Butson said the union had been trying to make working at the workshops more attractive, with an emphasis on diversity and an increase in hourly wage of $1.63 for union members.

However, one anonymous worker from the Hutt workshop said that while things have improved and morale is up, workers are nervous as they wait for the next chief executive.

He said that it was difficult for workers every time the leadership changed as they did not know if it would mean more restructures.

Todd Moyle - Kiwirail COO

Todd Moyle Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

But the acting chief executive Todd Moyle said that workers would be secure for the next three to four years.

"We've got a firm commitment from government around the direction that we're taking and they've got committed projects that we're supporting to deliver, and we're obviously gearing up to be able to deliver that and that gives certainty not only to the people at the workshops, but to the wider KiwiRail family as well."

KiwiRail would be employing up to 40 more staff at the Hutt workshop in the coming months, Mr Moyle said.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs