Monday, April 22, 2024

AgResearch shake up ‘cuts in disguise’

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Labour says the latest shake up at the country’s largest Crown research institute, which will gut its operations in Otago and Waikato, is a cost cutting exercise that will result in job losses.
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Corporate staff, technical advisers and scientists at AgResearch’s Invermay and Ruakura units were told on Tuesday their jobs would be shifted to Palmerston North and Lincoln. 

Lincoln will become AgResearch’s headquarters getting 215 more positions and Palmerston North’s Grasslands campus will get an extra 45, as part of a $100 million plan to create two new agriculture hubs. 

Relocating the 280 staff will leave the Invermay unit with just 30 staff and Ruakura will be reduced by two-thirds to 90. 

Labour’s economic development spokesperson and Dunedin North MP David Clark said the decision was terrible and AgResearch would have trouble getting highly skilled researchers to move. 

“It is gutting for the region. It is bad for science and it is actually bad for the economy as a whole,” he said. 

“If we are going to move to a high-tech, high-value economy we need to be growing these jobs in the regions not cutting them.” 

He warned that staff could go offshore in search of better jobs. 

“It is under the disguise of shifting resources but actually they are expecting to go from 280 staff nationwide to 240 and that’s a best-case scenario,” he said. 

“If we are going to move to a high-tech, high-value economy we need to be growing these jobs in the regions not cutting them.”

David Clark

Labour’s economic development spokesperson

AgReasearch chief executive Tom Richardson said a final decision would be made in September but no roles would be relocated before 2016 and staff would be notified six months before and have there relocation costs paid. 

“We will be modernising our science facilities, co-locating our capability wherever possible, and participating in large agriculture innovation hubs, all of which will generate greater returns across the pastoral sector,” he said. 

“We chose Lincoln over Palmerston North, on the grounds that Canterbury has a much larger population base for retention and recruitment purposes.” 

Crown Research Institute and Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce brushed off Labour’s predictions of more job cuts and that researchers would move overseas. 

“There is no doubt there is a great strength in having a concentration of similar researchers in one place in terms of getting better results and that’s just not in agriculture but across the research sector,” Joyce said. 

He hinted that even more specialisation could be seen at AgResearch’s food science hub in the Manawatu, its “Behind The Farm Gate” unit at Lincoln and Waikato’s environmental farming unit. 

Labour’s primary industries spokesperson Damien O’Connor said the Government was intent on centralising research. 

“It is dumb and further reinforces the fact that this Government is more concerned about cities and centralisation than it is about regions and research and development,” he said. 

“It’s not smart. It’s squeezing funding to cover other areas of Government responsibility. 

“The money they promised as part of the Primary Growth Partnership has not gone out into the hands of the research and the scientists in the research organisations, and this is centralisation just to cut costs,” he said. 

A final decision on the restructure is expected in September.

Related story: AgResearch plans its future footprint

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