Wednesday, 12 June 2013 16:12

SPARC short-handed moving forward

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Swift Current’s Semiarid Prairie Agricultural Research Centre is dealing with the aftermath of even more staffing cuts, after losing several staff members already last year.


The layoffs have left the station with seven fewer employees, who are considered to be ‘back-end staff’ but according to PSAC union representative Milton Dyck, are in fact valuable support staff for the scientists.
“These cuts were more numerous than the cuts last year, and what we’ve heard is that they are just looking to cut numbers, no matter what,” Dyck explained. “The group laid off this time includes several HR people, several important tradespeople, and the engineer in charge of our machine design lab.”
With the loss of human resources staff, any hiring for the branch will need to be done through the office in Winnipeg. Staff here will also be left without anyone on site to provide them with advice or guidance, and will have to find that support online. The facility is also losing its on-staff carpenter, and since its electrician, who retired last year, has not been replaced, it will be necessary for the branch to contract out any electrical or carpentry work that needs to be done.
“It doesn’t sound like much, but when you look at the prices for contract labour compared to what we were paying day-to-day for a staff member, it’s going to cost considerably more money,” Dyck said. “With the loss of our machinery design lab, we also no longer have the capability to work  on specialized equipment. We will still have mechanics, but since we won’t have a design team to build machinery for our research, we will have to contract out to modify existing equipment.”
Last year, the facility lost its librarian, leading to a series of staffing cuts that is leaving the branch with less support available to scientists. Dyck admitted without support staff in place, it will be difficult to recruit new scientists to the facility.
“We are losing all of the people who help make research click, help make it go. It’s important to have scientists to do this research, but we also need people to support those scientists,” he noted. “When you look at it in a bigger picture, with a cut here, and a cut here, seven people doesn’t sound like a lot. But with programs being lost and whittled away, it’s becoming easier to say that our station is no longer viable.”
Since the station has been a major employer in Swift Current for years, the potential of losing the facility entirely would have a large impact on the community as a whole.
As staff continues to be laid off, Dyck explained it becomes more likely the facility may look at privatizing, or moving to a larger centre.
“Swift Current is looking at losing a major economic part of the community,” Dyck said. “You can close something up and make a big splash, or you can simply carve it to pieces and hope that no one notices. All of the research we do here at SPARC is for the good of the farming community — small, local communities right here in the southwest. We are really losing that, important research that actually helps the average farmer.”

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Jessi Gowan

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