Monday, April 22, 2024

On-farm support ring-fenced amid MPI cuts

Neal Wallace
 No proposed reductions to frontline biosecurity or support teams, MPI says.
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Newly created on-farm support teams are not included in proposed job cuts initiated this week by the Ministry of Primary Industries.

The Ministry has employed 45 staff in on-farm support teams and in response to questions from Farmers Weekly, an MPI spokesperson said it is committed “to protecting our vital primary sector from pests and diseases, and helping farmers and growers meet challenges including recovery from adverse events”.

“There are no reductions proposed to our frontline biosecurity work at the border, including ports, airports, and mail centres. Nor are any reductions proposed to our on-farm support teams.”

The coalition government has asked the MPI to find savings of 7.5% in the coming financial year and this week the Ministry started consulting staff on proposals that will result in a net reduction of 384 positions, 9% of its workforce, of which about 40% are currently vacant.

Public Service Association (PSA) national secretary Duane Leo described the 7.5% savings target as an arbitrary and blunt instrument that has no rational reasoning.

As at June 30 last year, the MPI employed more than 3800 people and in the past five years it has increased its headcount by 1100.

Leo said given the growth in exports, tourists and population over that timeframe, an increase in MPI staff was warranted.

He said the PSA would support a considered approach to find efficiencies, but a 9% reduction in the workforce will affect services, could result in the loss of essential staff and increase the workload on those who remain.

He fears this round of cuts could be followed by another to achieve the government’s budget cut targets.

An MPI spokesperson said cost savings include a mix of programme reductions along with the staffing proposals currently out for consultation.

The financial target the MPI is being asked to meet is budget sensitive and won’t be available until the process finishes in May. 

Federated Farmers board member David Birkett said government departments need to live within budget constraints, but any cuts cannot be at the expense of core, frontline roles such as biosecurity.

Birkett said programmes should be scrutinised, especially those that have not delivered as intended.

The federation’s board regularly meets with the MPI and Birkett said it will have input into the department’s final proposals.

In a message to staff this week, MPI director-general Ray Smith said the proposed staffing cuts will not result in any reduction to frontline services and statutory roles such as veterinarians, animal welfare, fishery and food compliance officers or biosecurity teams at the border. 

“However, we are proposing changes to roles and reporting lines in other areas of MPI, including the disestablishment of some positions.” 

Consultation with staff will run through until April 9 with final decisions, following staff input, expected by mid-May.

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