OPINION: Nobby Clark Take On the Southland disAbility Enterprises/Wastenet Debacle

May 16, 2019
2287 Views

SdE to their credit have now broken their confidentiality conditions with the WasteNet committee (a coalition of the 3 Councils in Invercargill, Southland District and Gore), which has muzzled them for far too long telling their 82 affected employees and their family members of the pending axe job.

And to add salt to the pain already being experienced by this vulnerable group of people in our community and their families, the spokesperson for WasteNet, the Southland District Mayor Tong leans all over SdE for this breach of confidentiality.

I sat through the meeting that SdE management had with it’s staff and parents.
The exercise was painful, the emotions really raw.

Some parents are fearful of reverting back to being a 24/7 carer. Others stated they would have to give up their jobs to now look after their loved ones and as older folk, this has a significant impact on the quality of their lives and their retirement savings.
I heard some workers say “are we losing our jobs – what will we do – did I do something wrong”.

In a normal employment situation this timing may be OK, but the workers at SdE are not normal. They are likely to not only lose their work, they lose community involvement and their lives will likely return to one of not being included in our community. Most will not be able to get paid work elsewhere. They will become invisible and live 24/7 at home or with Idea Services.

So, SdE had no option than to release the advice they have been given and in lay terms, Mayor Tong should “pull his head in” and show some empathy, some compassion.
It is important to also note that ICC pays 63% of the WasteNet contract, District Council 29% and Gore 8%, yet all Councils have an equal say in the matter.

So, where to from here?

WasteNet state that a final decision has yet to be made and technically they are right. The councils collectively, could apply a ‘social responsibility’ measure, to override the purely financial measure and retain SdE with it’s vulnerable workers.
I hear the parents say “it should not be about money, it should be about caring for those less fortunate than us”.

So, let me deal with the money side of this debate, from my perspective of ICC.
The ICC 63% share of the additional cost for a renewed contract with SdE would have been about $378,000 per year.

Consider the following list of expenditure that ICC has committed on our behalf and tell me if any of them are more important that retaining SdE and it’s staff:

  • Don Street project has had $2.35m and $2.5m injected after the project blowout was highlighted. The annual loss on this project is $488,000 this year and is ongoing.
  • A $250,000 loss per year for the last 13 years on the Awarua Industrial Park dream.
  • $1.3m strengthening of the Water Tower which is not in the list of projects in the 10 year Long Term Plan and where there is no commitment to allow any public access after strengthening.
  • The $2.35m refinancing of ICC derelict buildings in Lower Esk Street that were already owned by ICC
  • $600,000 for a Chinese Garden that nobody seems to want except the Mayor and some elected Councillors following Sister City visits to China
  • $400,000, followed by a further $300,000 funding, into Southland Stadium
  • $900,000 spent purchasing forestry blocks in Nelson
  • Untold funds to be spent upgrading Rugby Park
  • $1.97m moved from operational funding into reserve funds last year as “we don’t need the money and won’t need it next year”
  • $2m likely to be held back from the trading company profits to cover the ‘cash strapped HoldCo”

I think the ICC Extraordinary meeting on the 5th of June should be open to the public and the media and each Councillor should vote independently, so we know who is for and against caring for these vulnerable people.

If the outcome is for the preferred tenderer on costs, , it will be disastrous for 82 workers and more than 200 family members.
On the other hand they may use their social responsibility option, given the public outcry we hear.

If however, it is good enough for those at SdE to lose their jobs, over a relatively small amount of funding, then it is also time for our elected Councillors and the Mayor to be “unemployed” over the millions they have mismanaged. While we have little ability to influence the contract outcome, we do have ‘people power’ come election time.

I hear that the parents may be looking to some degree of public protest to make a final impression on our decision makers. I will be there. Feel free to join them.
There is also the online pledge to commit to not voting for any Councillors in Octobers’ election, who vote for the preferred tenderer.

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