Last month I had the pleasure of speaking at the Australian Federation of Air Pilots (AFAP) Conference in Adelaide. This was an opportunity to update our Australian colleagues about NZALPA’s activities over the past 12 months, as well as learn from their experiences in areas of mutual interest and importance.
Some of the issues facing AFAP members caused me to reflect on the fact that what can often be just the stroke of a pen for a corporate entity can actually have far-reaching ramifications for employees and their families.
An example of this is the recent dispute between AFAP and Regional Express Holdings Ltd (Rex). AFAP took legal action against Rex regarding a dispute over the reimbursement of actual reasonable personal expenses as a result of forced temporary transfers away from home base, and the payment of the stipulated daily transport allowance (DTA).
In late 2016, Rex decided to send pilots on temporary transfers from home base. This was for a period of up to 27 days away at one time. The concept of ‘forced’ temporary transfers was new to the pilot group.
Ultimately the dispute centred on whether pilots were entitled to DTA for the entire period away from home base on a temporary transfer. Under their existing contracts, pilots were entitled to DTA for each hour of duty directly associated with flying duties and, for the purposes of calculating the DTA, duty time was defined as those hours encompassed from sign on at home base to sign off at home base.
Rex’s position was that they would only pay DTA for duty directly associated with flying duties, which would not include non-working days or time spent resting and sleeping between sign on and sign off at home base (days off occurred at the base of temporary transfer).
Sadly, the dispute came with very real human costs – AFAP reported that some pilots could attribute the loss of their homes and their marriages as a consequence of the forced transfers.
In August 2017, the Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission (FWC) upheld AFAP’S view and determined that a pilot on temporary transfer must be paid DTA for the entirety of that period (i.e. from sign on at home base to sign off at home base).
The amount of DTA owed was circa $3000 per pilot, with AFAP noting that Rex has still yet to pay what it owes to about nine pilots. People’s lives had been disrupted, some irreparably, for what appears to be for the sake of a few thousand dollars savings.
In many respects, this dispute reinforced for me how comparatively fortunate New Zealand is than many other jurisdictions. Here our employment standards are mostly focused on building productive employment relationships based on good faith behaviour while, at the same time, recognising and addressing the inherent inequality of power in those relationships.
At NZALPA, we’ve of course faced our share of disputes over the years, and no doubt will continue to do so. For example, at the time of writing one pilot group continues to struggle with its employer honouring minimum standards meal and rest break legislation.
We can’t allow these standards to be readily dismissed and requirements eroded – particularly given the wider ramifications for the welfare of employees, and consequently, potential risk for the travelling public, when the need for such standards are not understood.
This is one of the reasons why NZALPA will continue to work hard to improve relationships and seek to work constructively with our air traffic controllers’ and pilots’ employers in order to promote and protect our members’ interests and legal entitlements.
Standards, however minimum (and whether dictated by legislation or contract), are there for a reason – let’s do all we can to help understanding.
Enjoy your month.