AgResearch confirms 83 lay-offs, hires 27 for new roles, as research demand changes
By Fiona Rotherham
Sept. 24 (BusinessDesk) - AgResearch has confirmed speculation it is axing jobs, announcing plans to lay off 83 scientists and technicians because of declining investment in some areas of research and development, while hiring 27 for new roles.
AgResearch chair Sam Robinson said the Waikato-based crown research institute had to balance shifts in its sector’s research needs, and therefore revenue, with the need to respond to emerging science opportunities to maximise the impact for New Zealand’s pastoral sector.
“Declining R&D investment in some areas means that we are currently facing a significant and ongoing funding challenge in those areas,” he said. “While both private sector and government revenue is increasing in other areas, our net science revenue is forecast to be $5.3 million less for FY16 compared to FY15,” he said.
It proposes reducing 32 scientist roles and 50 science technician roles in areas of low customer demand and recruiting 18 new scientists and nine science technicians in areas of growing customer demand and government investment. The cuts represent 18 percent of its research staff. Total staff number include 769 full time staff and 95 casuals.
The Public Service Association’s national secretary Erin Polaczuk said it had nearly 350 members working at AgResearch sites across the country and that the New Zealand economy will lose out through this move.
"AgResearch should be driving innovation for the New Zealand economy, but instead they face shrinking capacity and budgets," she said."83 skilled science roles are proposed to go, and these people will struggle to find quality jobs elsewhere in New Zealand.”
Many of the scientists and technicians being laid off will be forced to look overseas for work, meaning their skills and knowledge is lost to New Zealand, she said.
Polaczuk said the government had to be held to account for the repeated shrinking of its crown research institutes and AgResearch in particular.
"The loss of well-paying skilled science jobs in the regions will particularly hurt, as people are forced to leave for the big centres or overseas.”
Labour's economic development spokesman David Clark said Science Minister Steven Joyce needed to stop the "shambolic" restructure, "sack the board" and start again to stop long term damage to New Zealand's biggest export earner.
Earlier in the week former AgResearch scientist Doug Edmeades said the news was a “pretty fatal blow” to agricultural research and represented around 19 percent of its researchers.
Robinson said the proposed changes were consistent with its overall strategy for science and what it has identified with its customers.
A final decision on the proposals will be made at the end of October following consultation with staff.
AgResearch’s first-half report flagged that it was unlikely to hit budgeted full-year revenue, primarily because of an unforeseen decrease in revenue from Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and Primary Growth Partnership-related contracts. The report said the board and management were continuing to “explore opportunities to replace this revenue and expenditure controls remain in place”.
The group posted $63.7 million in revenue for the six months ending December 2014, down $5.2 million on the same period the previous year and below budgeted revenue of $69.9 million.
It made a net deficit after tax of $5.9 million, $1.1 million more than at the same time last year.
AgResearch is one of seven state-owned CRIs formed in 1992 and aims to enhance the value, productivity, and profitability in New Zealand’s pastoral, agri-food and agri-technology sector.