This column (written by me) appeared in the Dunedin D Scene newspaper today
A parliamentary inquiry into manufacturing heard this week in Dunedin there are no quality checks on the manufacturing standards of the rail wagons imported from China – a contract which sounded the death knell for the Hillside workshops.
Common themes emerged at the day-long hearing with Hillside, NZ Aluminium Smelters, Oamaru’s Summit Woolspinners and the unions representing workers at those plants questioning tenders awarded to offshore companies over local providers based purely on lowest cost, rather than the true value to the whole of the economy; the impact of the high dollar on exports and indifference of government to keeping and building a skilled workforce in our communities.
One of the most chilling revelations was that there are no quality checks being undertaken on the standard of manufacture of the Chinese imported wagons.
The inquiry, initiated by Opposition parties heard that welding on both wagons and locomotives was substandard and that no checks were undertaken to ensure they met New Zealand standards.
I have since been told that a directive has been issued to Kiwirail staff that no-one is to stand on, or ride in the controversial IAB wagons imported from China in 2011. That directive does not apply to New Zealand built wagons. These wagons also have a speed restriction placed on them due to the systemic flaws with their design and construction.
The Rail, Maritime Transport Union has recently sounded a sobering warning through its latest journal that Kiwirail culture has dangerously shifted towards services over safety.
Clocks have been installed in Kiwirail workplaces and performance is being measured on minimising time delays.
The pressure from within Kiwirail to meet Government policies for profit on its freight business and to reduce cost on other parts of the organisation is a time bomb waiting to go off.
The union likens it to the period in the late 1990s when a series of fatalities stimulated a Government inquiry in rail health and safety.
Kiwirail and its political masters should be warned that the country is watching closely the impact of lowest cost tendering, cuts to rail maintenance and the pressure to put time-keeping over health and safety issues. You can’t say you haven’t been warned.