HERALD WEEKLY ISSUE 608: 21 March 2012

Herald Exclusive
Health and safety of Air NZ shift workers under scrutiny

On 12 June this year, 15 Air NZ Rarotonga Airport Traffic staff (Customer Service Agents-CSA’s) staff wrote to Manager David Bridge to express several grievances over their work conditions namely the lack of adequate periods for rest between rostered shifts, the lack of sufficient rostered days off for rest, overtime payments and annual leave issues. The Herald has been given a copy of this letter.
At the heart of the grievances was the concern for safety and health due to inadequate rest between shifts and the lack of standards to ensure adequate rest.
On 19 June David Bridge replied by letter proposing a roster review committee be formed immediately to assess and discuss the current roster. Bridge mentioned in his letter that the current roster had been adopted in 2009 after discussion with staff.
A spokesperson for the staff told the Herald there had been some attempt by management to improve the situation. The roster review committee was established, but because the number of staff rostered per flight did not change much, the roster was difficult to manage.
The spokesperson said the answer to the issues raised is for the local Air NZ branch to adopt the Air NZ’s safety and well being policy which applies in NZ or at least the standards set by the collective agreement in NZ, should be adopted or extended to Rarotonga, given it is an airport operational environment, which poses the same safety and well being risks, and the nature of the work of Customer Service Agents (CSAs) here in Rarotonga is the same as those in Auckland.
Ministry of Internal Affairs staff advised the Herald the issue had been referred to them but it concerned an employment contract matter which legal advice to the Ministry was that the Ministry could not become involved in contract negotiations. When questioned if the Ministry had considered investigating the health and safety issue arising from inadequate rest, since it is responsible for overseeing workplace safety and health, the Ministry advised this aspect was not considered as no formal complaint had been laid.

The background story
Allegations of “discriminatory treatment” of Air NZ Customer Service Agents (CSA) staff over their entitlement to adequate workplace safety and wellbeing standards have been leveled against Air NZ management according to a spokesperson who approached the Herald.

The Group Workplace Safety and Wellbeing Policy issued by Chief Executive Rob Fyfe in November of 2010 clearly stipulates the responsibility of both employee and company. The policy document not only states ‘employees will not knowingly create situations where the safety and wellbeing of any person is compromised” but goes further to say that the “company will develop and continuously review procedures and systems to reduce risk and prevent work related accidents and illness, promote the wellbeing of everyone in the workplace.

However the spokesperson says Air New Zealand Rarotonga, CSA staff have been operating under contradictory circumstances to those core employment values offered to their international colleagues. All directly employed Air NZ Airport operational staff in New Zealand fall under 2 collective agreements, one specified for cleaners and the other for operational staff making Air NZ operations in Rarotonga the only fully Air NZ Airport operations outside of NZ. The later of the two collective agreements includes a set of standards regardless of whether staffs are members of the union or not, these include:
A. A “10hour rule’ – whereby airport staff are not allowed to be rostered to work a shift, nor accept to work either over time or an extra shift, within 10 hours of finishing a shift.
B. CSA staff in NZ follow a roster of ‘6-days on, 3-days off’ to acknowledge part time operational staffs need of at least 3 consecutive days rest.
C. Annual leave entitlement for part time workers is set at 5 weeks per annum.

Grievances of Cook Island CSA staff lie with the conditions within which they are expected to work and strongly believe that their safety and wellbeing is being placed at risk at a recurring rate. In June of 2012 Air NZ Rarotonga CSA staff banded together to draft, sign and issue a letter to General Manager Cook Islands David Bridge to make management aware of the employment issues for possible review.

Air NZ staff based in Rarotonga are expected to carry out the same level of work as those based in New Zealand, working to turn over the same aircrafts, in a high level safety and security risk environment, dealing with the same level of customers, and adhering to same company rules, procedures and processes. However staff are subject to lesser wage rates to that of New Zealand based staff, and annual leave entitlements based upon the local ‘Industrial and Labor Ordinance 1964’.
Currently annual leave for Rarotonga based Air NZ CSA staff is 10 days per annum which is aligned with local law set at a minimum 5-day working week poorly reflecting, says the spokesperson, their actual 7-day, 20+ hour working schedule, while CSA colleagues based at Auckland International Airport are entitled 35 days annual leave per annum pro rata.

The allegation is Air NZ has put no standards in place to ensure that CSA staff are given adequate hours of rest in-between rostered shifts. This has meant that in extreme cases some staffs are expected to work a rostered double shift of 2 flights, 1200 to 0300am and 0530 to 0900, with only 2.5 hours break in between. As a result of the Friday night double shift, for years now the CSA staff requested that management produce mattresses to rest on as for those living far distances from the Nikao based airport there is little point in going home. While for those who do return home to rest they run the risk of not waking in time and so have resorted to resting on office couches.
Staff requests were declined by the General Manager on the basis of insufficient funds however after an internal audit of the company from Auckland it was stated that this was indeed an Occupational Safety and Health issue and that Air NZ had to provide mattresses for staff whereby the General Manager agreed but provided a number of yoga mats as an alternative sleeping arrangement.

A concern is that the operating roster pattern does not support a balanced ‘work-life’ lifestyle and has negatively impacted operations with a high level of sick leave AIR NZ Rarotonga CSA have at times been short staffed and reduced to turn over Boeing 777s and 767s with staff numbers as low as 6.
In the letter staff expressed that they would prefer for the company’s collective agreement to apply here in Rarotonga, and or the same airport operational safety and wellbeing standards, which would then call for more staff, compensation and acknowledgement of the added stress for working late night flights.
In Air New Zealand’s written response to the staff’s concerns management stated that they have an open door policy encouraging feedback with most recent roster reviews conducted almost 2 years ago, it states “current pattern was accepted after staff consultation when a roster review was undertaken in 2009” and that “at the time shift swaps were reintroduced as a local agreement.”

Suggestions from management included the proposal to form a roster review committee with representatives from CSA staff and management with the group addressing and discussing the current roster. This was done but the spokesperson claims that it was viewed by staff as being ineffective as the number of rostered staff remained with little change and rosters still proved difficult to manage.
Local Air NZ Manager David Bridge has been sent a copy of this article and has been invited to comment on any action taken by management to ensure staff safety and health. At time of going to print, Bridge was away in New Zealand. -Maria Tanner

Herald Issue 608 21 March
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