NZALPA’s membership is made up of the majority of commercial pilots and air traffic controllers in New Zealand. As a professional association and union, we represent employees of the largest aviation employers in the country.
However, we also have a burgeoning general aviation (GA) sector of pilots, with many of them employees of small to medium enterprises, who are less represented by NZALPA and, consequently, employed or engaged under poor or sub-standard work conditions. These are much worse positions than those of their aviation colleagues represented by NZALPA in larger operations.
At present NZALPA has around 300 pilots in its GA membership, with numbers rising each month as hardworking pilots faced with atypical employment practices, such as zero-hour contracts, piece-meal pay, or so-called independent contracts, realise the importance and benefits of NZALPA membership.
As Bill Rosenberg highlights in his guest editorial, these types of atypical arrangements are becoming increasingly commonplace and are affecting New Zealand’s most-vulnerable workers.
What comes as a shock to many outside the aviation industry is that it is not uncommon for NZALPA to hear from pilots operating in the GA environment who are paid less than the minimum wage or are working under conditions in breach of other statutory provisions.
It’s sad to think that these employees feel they are stuck in the situation they are in, usually reluctant to raise this with their employer – or allow NZALPA to raise it on their behalf – because, due to their precarious position, complaining is seen to be career limiting.
When pilots are hesitant to raise operational issues or other concerns such as fatigue it is not just them, but also the travelling public, who may be at risk.
Atypical employment models make NZALPA’s, and other unions’, negotiation of robust collective employment agreements, and having this right protected under legislation, even more important than ever.
However, under the current Government, New Zealand’s employment law changed in 2015 to allow employers to opt out of multi-employer collective agreements, and, as a consequence, individual relations are almost solely based around individual bargaining. Collective bargaining is limited to enterprise bargaining, with the exception of historical multi-employer collective agreements (MECAs). There are significant benefits to being employed under a collective agreement: as Victoria University’s Centre for Labour, Employment and Work reported in August, in 2016 only 48% of employees in New Zealand not covered by a collective agreement received a pay rise during the year, compared to 99% of workers employed under collective agreements who did get a pay rise.
Furthermore, from 1980 to 2010, the density of collective bargaining use reduced by 53 percent and, over a similar period (1982-2008), unsurprisingly real wages (wages adjusted with inflation) reduced nationally by 25 percent.
Within OECD nations, New Zealand is rare because the number of workers covered by collective agreements is less than workers belonging to a union. For example, France has 8 percent union density, but 98 percent of the workforce is covered by collective agreements. However, in New Zealand, only 17.7 percent of the national workforce are union members. In the private sector the situation is worse, with only 9 percent of employees being members of a union. Significantly, only around 15 percent of our country’s workforce is covered by a collective agreement.
Add to this the fact that private sector SMEs have lower union membership numbers than larger enterprises and we see that enterprise bargaining combined with voluntary unionism is slow and ineffective at achieving all of the conditions workers need.
As a union, the challenge is to engage with employers – and especially SMEs – in a constructive, interest-based way in order to prevent atypical employment practices becoming the norm for us who work locally in aviation. This is why we are growing in the GA sector where collective agreements are rare and difficult to negotiate – it is absolutely necessary to stop a ‘race to the bottom’ regarding terms and conditions of employment.
One such initiative to address these concerns has been put forward by the Labour Party – a proposal to develop Fair Pay Agreements (FPAs). These agreements would involve relevant stakeholders (including unions) and employers and, with the assistance of the Employment Relations Authority, would create agreements that covered minimum conditions, such as wages, allowances, weekend and night rates, hours of work and leave for workers, all based on the employment standards that apply in that industry. In addition, collective agreements and individual employment agreements could not provide terms and conditions that were less, or worse, than FPAs.
We await with interest whether other parties will promote policy that enables us to better protect the security of employment of our members, and particularly our more vulnerable GA members.
Regardless of what is promoted by the parties within our government, NZALPA will continue to collaborate with relevant bodies and employers to ensure that the models negatively impacting the aviation industry in Europe and elsewhere overseas do not become common practice in New Zealand.
Have a great month.