Pact challenged on closures

By Janna Sherman

The union representing Pact staff facing job losses with the impending closure of three West Coast houses has called in the lawyers.
Pact last week confirmed it was closing the houses in Bealey and Sewell streets, Hokitika, along with one in Palmerston Street, Greymouth from November 25.
Ten staff will lose their jobs. All staff were given until 5pm yesterday to decide if they want to take voluntary redundancy or apply for one of the remaining positions.
The Fitzherbert Street and Woodstock houses will continue as residential facilities, while the Bealey Street house will be reopened as a daytime social networking centre.
Service and Food Workers Union organiser Coral Hodgson said yesterday the union was not happy that everyone had to reapply for jobs that were not changing.
“There are actually laws saying unless the job description changes by at least 20% they can’t be made to reapply for that job they already have,” Ms Hodgson said.
The union had been liaising with Pact throughout the week — but they were “not budging”.
The issue had now been passed on to the lawyers, she said.
That could delay the process.
Affected staff had “mixed moods” over the changes.
“Some people are really concerned. They can’t afford to be without work, while others are getting to retirement age. They are the people that will probably take voluntary redundancy.”
Staff at Hokitika Pact houses were yesterday mum on their options.
One Pact employee said she wanted to stay in order to not disrupt the continuity of care for clients.
Pact operations manager Glen Murtagh said redundancies would be a “last resort”.
Mr Murtagh said he was not concerned about any delays caused by the union action. He felt the process of having everyone reapply in bulk was actually “fairer” on staff.
“We are comfortable that our process is legal and well within the human rights law.”
Pact West Coast was established in 1999 after the demise of Seaview Hospital.
However, it has been losing money for years, gaining only two new clients in as many years.
Director of operations Donald Shand said while the changes were driven by financial constraints, Pact would be working to a new funding model with the West Coast District Heath Board, which would be more flexible with existing funding.
A new activity service would be launched as well as social networking centres in Greymouth, Hokitika and Westport.
He said the changes needed to be made to avert the total closure of Pact on the West Coast.
The new model would leave the organisation with a sustainable service that could meet client needs successfully for years to come, Mr Shand said.