New Zealand Post’s unveiled a massive new automated national packaging centre in South Auckland, part of a multimillion-dollar investment to futureproof the business to meet changing consumer demand. But the Postal Workers Union said the company’s plans come at the cost of employee rights.

NZ Post took media for a tour of the new Wiri facility, which was so big that they said four rugby fields would fit inside it. The centre can sort 30,000 parcels an hour — more than double the amount currently processed.

“This is part of the transformation of NZ Post,” chief executive David Walsh told 1News.

“We expect New Zealanders to continue to buy online and that’s why we’re growing and investing in this sort of capacity — to keep pace with that.”

The company has invested $200 million in the new Wiri centre and two others around the country.

However, the Postal Workers Union says staff are being left out of the company’s future and it’s taking legal action to try to save jobs.

The South Auckland centre contains 4km of conveyor belts, which take parcels past a large barcode reader, sorting them into destinations around the country.

NZ Post’s general manager of operations Marie Watson said it “provides more efficiency, more accuracy, and better reading of addresses”.

“The barcodes enable things to get to the destination, to your address, the right time first time.”

The centre has already started sorting domestic parcels. In July an international gateway will open, with space for Customs and Biosecurity staff to work on-site.

NZ Post said it expected no jobs to be lost at the new centre. But across its business, the company has announced several hundred posties are expected to lose jobs in the next few years, as the demand for mail delivery declines.

“New Zealand Post is an SOE (State-Owned Enterprise), so we have a responsibility to be a commercially successful business,” Walsh said. “That is what is driving us to have to make some difficult decisions for our people about change over time.”

Postal Workers Union responds

But the Postal Workers Union said it would fight to save posties’ jobs.

“We’re only at the beginning now of this campaign to save the jobs of posties and to stop a state-owned enterprise going down the path of contractualising work,” union organiser John Maynard said.

He said NZ Post’s plan to merge the delivery of letters and parcels would see contractors take over the work, without employment protection.

Maynard said the union had received feedback that some contractors were being paid below the legal minimum wage.

“And specifically their contract says not entitled to payment for annual leave, sick leave, superannuation, parental leave, redundancy, or overtime,” he said.

The union had just filed an application with the Employment Relations Authority to seek an order forcing NZ Post back into collective bargaining over job cuts. In July it was due to take a separate action in the Employment Court, seeking a ruling that two contractors be deemed employees.

“We’re certainly not giving up,” Maynard said. “We’re pushing the envelope.”

NZ Post had no comment on the legal action. On the plan to reduce its workforce, Walsh said it would be done “carefully” and “progressively”.

“And most importantly, we have to help out people through that change well.”