NZALPA got its chance this month to put forward why it opposes Airways application for accreditation status in relation to the category of employee described as "Air Traffic System Personnel".
"Airways does not have a current, or pending, shortage of air traffic controllers which would justify granting Accredited Employer status," NZALPA legal officer Adam Nicholson submitted to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).
"The organisation’s longer term projection is that, as a result of amalgamating current work positions, a significant surplus is likely to be in effect in approximately three years. Airways also has the capacity to employ more new air traffic controller trainees from the New Zealand labour pool rather than employing from overseas."
NZALPA’s objection is based on Airways' obligations and on the criteria for accreditation in three broad areas, Nicholson explained.
Airways is a State Owned Enterprise and has some higher obligations than does a private enterprise operator to train and employ available New Zealanders.
Airways is a monopoly employer of air traffic controllers in New Zealand with concomitant (natural) obligations.
Airways, through its subsidiary/subordinate business, is the sole provider of training for employment as an air traffic controller in New Zealand and in that regard has some responsibilities.
NZALPA also advised the Ministry Airways has developed a detailed Workforce Planning Manual that NZALPA said "enables the organisation to determine with considerable precision its air traffic controller employer recruitment requirements for current and future years."
"Airways recently reviewed its establishment numbers downwards and, as a result, most domestic control towers are operating with a slight surplus over the new establishment numbers."
The submission also outlined other reasons why offshore ATCs were not required
Significant numbers of New Zealand air traffic controllers are currently on temporary release or sabbatical from Airways and are operating as air traffic controllers on fixed term contracts in other countries. Most, if not all, of these New Zealand trained air traffic controllers intend on returning to work for Airways in a relatively finite short term, and most have provisions in their leave arrangements allowing them to return early at the agreement of Airways and the controller. These employees equal approximately 8% of the total air traffic control employee cohort.
Airways has been approaching its own air traffic controllers and offering enhanced early retirement opportunities because of its apparent over budget staffing situation. A number of those approached accepted the offer. It appears that the current Airways’ view is that they are 8 over the budgeted establishment, in excess of 2%.
The current rate of attrition of air traffic controllers through retirement, illness or other issues averages approximately 7.5 FTEs per annum in normal circumstances. The average
trained for employment with Airways per annum over the last four years has been approximately 9.6 FTE.
Airways is currently in the middle of a strategy of amalgamating different air traffic control work sectors or units to gain acknowledged staff savings through economies of scale. It has expressed an expectation of significant savings in air traffic controller numbers and costs being achieved on completion in early to mid-2021.
Airways runs its own air traffic controller training facility through a subsidiary. This organisation is currently earning Airways money training approximately 35 trainees for Vietnam, 6 for Hong Kong and 6 for the UAE. That training burden may restrict Airways' ability to significantly boost its training for its own needs, if they had any need at the moment to increase their air traffic controller workforce. Their own workforce planning department appears to believe they do not, and will not, for some years.
Regardless, the current Airways planned training for its own needs in 2018 is 4 in May and 8 in November. Past experience indicates that Airways can train, for its own employment, as many as 12 on each of the 3 courses usually run in each year. A more normal training load may be closer to 8 per course.
"If there is a looming shortage of air traffic controllers of which NZALPA is unaware, Airways has the ability to increase its training numbers.
"It would be both unfortunate, and contrary to the accreditation criteria, if Airways chose to make money from training air traffic controllers for overseas clients while justifying not making employment and training opportunities available to New Zealanders because their own training facility is too busy," concluded Nicholson.
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