24 Feb 2012

MFAT confirms 300 jobs to go

5:13 am on 24 February 2012

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade has confirmed it is set to cut hundreds of jobs as part of proposed restructuring.

Chief executive John Allen says the ministry has become top heavy and needs to update its processes.

Staff at the ministry were told on Thursday that the proposed restructuring will result in 305 jobs being cut.


Of those, 169 are of New Zealand staff, both at home and abroad, with the remaining 136 employed locally at posts overseas.

The changes include the closure of embassies in Stockholm and Warsaw, changes to hiring and employment practices, as well as greater use of technology and the contracting out of services.

The proposals will save $20 million to $25 million a year. Mr Allen says the ministry will become smaller, flexible and more affordable.

"The drivers of this change are not entirely in cost-cutting; the drivers of this change are very much in the culture of the organisation and in the capability of the organisation."

Mr Allen says the changes will also bring an end to the practice of rotating staff through the organisation based on seniority.

"I think it is fair to say that we've been a bit top-heavy as a ministry.

"Now, that's not to say that people have been sitting around doing nothing. But I think probably is fair to say that we've had more senior resource than the ministry probably needs."

About 600 of the ministry's current workforce of 1420 will have to re-apply for their positions, he says.

In January, MFAT said it expected that about 200 jobs would go.

Final decisions on the restructuring will be taken following a month-long consultation with staff.

The Public Service Association says it is concerned about the scale of the proposed job cuts and how it will affect productivity. It says more than 3500 state sector jobs have been cut since the National Party came to power in 2008.

Opposition slates cuts

Opposition parties say the Government's thoughtless cost-cutting will result in the gutting of MFAT.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully on Thursday welcomed the proposed changes, describing them as far-reaching and a genuine attempt to ensure that MFAT can meet New Zealand's future needs.


Mr McCully says it will be critical that the ministry is able to retain talented staff once final decisions are made on job cuts.

But Labour's foreign affairs spokesperson Phil Goff says the restructuring is simply a cost-cutting exercise "however you dress it up".

Mr Goff says the cuts will hit core positions designed to protect New Zealand's trade and diplomatic interests.

"The Government's demanded that they save $40 million a year - and that $40 million a year can not be found unless you cut the core functions of the ministry, which is about protecting our trade, about looking after our security interests internationally."

Labour says the proposed cuts will also reduce the amount of support the Government can offer New Zealanders in trouble overseas.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters called the changes insane.

He says New Zealand is desperately trying to increase its trade and it needs diplomatic representation to smooth the way.

"This is not a business we're trying to run - we're running an international presence where our influence, our respect and our trading interests need personnel who are experienced and capable."