by Phil Duncan

Last Friday (December 1) all the staff at Rotorua Aquatics, which is owned by the local council, were presented with redundancy notices.

The Council wants to bring in an outside management company, and is preparing the ground for this with the redundancy notices.  The Rotorua Lakes Council is so high-handed that it didn’t even bother with the usual employer pretence of “consultation”.

The mayor involved in this assault on workers’ rights is Steve Chadwick, a former four-term Labour MP

Not surprisingly, the mayor involved in this attack on workers’ rights is a former Labour MP, Steve Chadwick.

The Council’s over-riding motive is clear – penny-pinching at the expense of the Aquatic Centre workers and the local community who use the centre and whose children learn to swim there.  The Council says outsourcing management will save $700,000 in the first year alone.

What this means is that the new management will hire workers who are less well-trained and who will work for less.  Existing workers can reapply for thier jobs, but at the much-reduced rates of pay and worsened conditions.

Sid Warena, a lifeguard at the centre for 29 years, has described what is happening as “gut-wrenching”, especially given Rotorua’s unemployment rate.  The official rate is 6.7%, notably higher than the national average; while the real rate of unemployment and under-employment is much higher.

Alex Te Kowhai, a shift superviser at the Aquatic Centre, notes, “Like everyone in Rotorua we’ve got a mortgage, a house, three young kids- eleven, six and five. . .  Although you can apply for those positions, you lose a lot of your terms and conditions that come with it.  And what they’re offering is minimum wage.”

The workers and local community aren’t taking the Council’s high-handed austerity lying down.  Their facebook page already has 800 likes and over 800 followers.  They are holding a protest march next Thursday (December 14), coinciding with the next Council meeting.

These workers are setting a good example.  Redundancies and cost-cutting at the expense of workers always need to be met with resistance and too frequently in this country at present they aren’t.

If you’re anywhere near Rotorua you can go along to the march.

Otherwise you can like the workers’ facebook page, sign the petition against the Council moves, donate to the campaign and share the news to your friends, workmates and union.

Show your support: Rotorua Aquatics SOS – Save Our Staff

You can also email your disapproval to mayor Steve Chadwick and the Council CEO Geoff Williams:;

Further reading: This is what workers’ resistance looks like

  1. Barrie says:

    Great to see some coverage of this. The Aquatic Centre is about 3 mins walk from my workplace. I wouldn’t say I go there a lot but I know its popular with young families. A lot of the the touristy water based sites in Rotorua are exorbitantly priced, so the Aquatic Centre is a much better option for a lot of us with little money.

  2. Malcolm says:

    Barrie, it would be great if you can try and link up with the workers and let us know what’s happening. What for example is the rest of the Council workforce going to do about this? Cheers, Malcolm

  3. Barrie says:

    Yes, I will see what I can do, time permitting. Ill begin by re-posting this article on our site. Hopefully I will be able to get to the hikoi and do interviews with some of the participants.

    • Phil says:

      That all sounds excellent Barrie. Good luck with it all. I just noticed that the mayor is 4-term former Labour MP Steve Chadwick, so added that into the article.

  4. Phil says:

    Not to romanticise small workplaces, but I find it interesting that there is more resistance to redundancy at the Aquatic Centre than at, say, the Cadbury’s factory in Dunedin. The workers haven’t rolled over like it’s inevitable; they have responded really quickly to the attack, got well-organised with a fb page and a march all set and rallying the community.

    If the workers can rally community support, I think they have a chance of winning. And it will be a rank-and-file victory.

    We would love to have more of these reports on Redline, but like AWSM we have few people, all with other commitments, from politics to kids, and we have almost no resources.

    Let’s share whatever we can on all this.

    • Definitely keen to share what we can. Yes, the local paper coverage was generally supportive of the workers. Since I got home today I’ve spoken to 5 people face to face about it and got good responses.

      One of my colleagues is married to an ex-mayor and he is still very much in the loop. I was at their place last week and the current mayor dropped by. I decided to make my apologies and leave rather than sit and make small talk. She’s very much respected in the area, though it’s more to do with stuff pre-dating her current role. All I see is a Labour party careerist who sponsors vanity projects, while huge chunks of the CBD consists of vacant shops that will never re open.

      Anyway, I really hope the Aquatic Centre issue gets resolved in favour of the workers.

  5. Robert Popata says:

    Hi Barrie Thank you for you supportive words.. As the AWUNZ organiser I know it is support of stories and positive comments that helps keep these workers motivated.. Nga Mihi Robert Popata 0212885606

  6. Phil says:

    Cheers Barrie.


  7. I went to the pool for a swim today and spent a bit of time briefly speaking to some of the workers. Because i wasnt able to attend the hikoi due to work commitments i wanted their take on what happened. Sid (who you mentioned in the article) said he wasn’t sure how many people were there because he was at the front of the march and didnt look behind him lol He struck me as a very modest man. Today was the first time in his life to be on a march so i think he found it very positive but a bit overwhelming for such a clearly humble person. Another worker i spoke to (sorry, i didnt get her name) said that they were unable to enter the council building but she felt it had been a necessary and important thing to be part of. I also talked to a few of the other swimmers and they were fully supportive. The vibe around the place is very positive. Im hoping to go back in the next few days and maybe do some more formal, on the record interviews.