New Zealand casino operator SkyCity Entertainment Group is being criticized by union organizers for rushing to re-open its Auckland casino and hotel so soon after last week’s devastating fire.
Last Tuesday, 22 October, SkyCity’s in-development NZ International Convention Center in downtown Auckland caught fire, sparking an evacuation of the city’s central business district, including SkyCity Auckland’s casino, hotels, restaurants and corporate offices.
By Thursday, 24 October, despite the fire continuing to smolder inside the convention center’s burnt-out shell, SkyCity’s casino was back in business, while the Sky Tower opened the following day. SkyCity said it had been assured by emergency officials that the fire was under control and that air quality was within regulatory standards. The SkyCity corporate offices aren’t scheduled to reopen until Tuesday, but customers were allowed to collect their vehicles from SkyCity’s carpark.
However, the New Zealand Herald reported that some SkyCity staff who’d returned to their casino jobs Friday night had struggled to finish their shifts due to respiratory complaints. The Unite Union had urged its 1,000 members to stage a four-day strike until it received written assurances that workers weren’t heading into unsafe conditions.
The Herald also reported that SkyCity COO Michael Ahearne had texted all staff telling them not to speak to the media, instructing them to direct all media inquiries to the company’s communications team.
SkyCity CEO Graeme Stephens released a personal diary of his actions during the fire, detailing the challenges of evacuating 1,250 staff, all SkyCity customers and shutting down gaming operations.
Stephens said the center of Auckland resembled “an empty, haunted, Apocalypse Now-type precinct.” But Stephens praised his team’s response, saying “at the high level I certainly wouldn’t change any decisions,” in part because there were no injuries despite the devastation.
While the fire will undoubtedly prevent SkyCity from meeting its Convention Center construction timeline – originally scheduled to be finished by the end of 2020 and open for business early in 2021 – SkyCity said it would update the market as more details became known and the company’s Investor Day will go ahead as planned on November 7 in Adelaide.