One hundred workers at Agriculture Victoria are being paid to enter early retirement as part of state government budget cuts.
The Victorian government is seeking $3.6 billion dollars in savings over four years from the public service.
To achieve that goal, the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, which includes Agriculture Victoria, asked for expressions of interest for 250 “early retirements” across its departments.
So far, 174 staff have been given an early retirement and will finish up as early as this week.
More than half of those staff worked at the government’s only dedicated agriculture body.
Victorian Farmers Federation president Emma Germano said the cuts were outrageous.
“Relationships have to go two ways and it’s really clear to me that the government doesn’t necessarily respect that relationship.”
Almost 150 staff at Agriculture Victoria volunteered for the early retirement program and the government accepted 100 of those requests.
The Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions is reserving the right to initiate further early retirements in the future.
Agriculture Minister Mary-Anne Thomas would not disclose which services of Agriculture Victoria would be by the job losses.
“People are entitled to retire,” she said.
Ms Thomas said all Agriculture Victoria regional offices would remain open, despite the cuts.
“Agriculture science is not just Agriculture Victoria, it is a community. A community of researchers in the department, in our university sector and in the private sector,” she said.
Disease, fire preparation concerns
Agriculture Victoria is the government agency responsible for managing large-scale pest and disease outbreaks in the state.
The organization has responded to a number of anthrax and bird flu outbreaks and is an important part of the state government’s emergency response during bushfires and other natural disasters.
“There are a number of people who have taken an early retirement now that have critical roles in incident-management teams,” Community and Public Sector Union Spokesman Julian Kennelly said.
Ms Thomas said there was a whole-of-government approach to disasters and emergencies and would not be drawn on whether Agriculture Victoria would remain properly staffed to manage emergencies.