TIME FOR GOVERNMENT ACTION
NZALPA is looking for decisive action in 2019, after a year of talk and very little Government action.
We focused on engagement in 2018 and put considerable effort into Ministerial relationships and telling the NZALPA story to our elected representatives. They appreciated contact from such a significant industry group and told us the information we provided was valuable. Our concerns were also reflected prominently in the media, generating significant public comment and debate.
But at the end of the day we heard too many Government excuses on critical aviation safety issues, affecting our members and the travelling public. The time for talking has passed; we won’t be silent on the Government’s failure to act in 2019.
Notable events included Minister of Transport Phil Twyford being unable to attend our annual conference as promised, after he was stripped of his civil aviation responsibilities. This followed an incident where he used a mobile phone on an aircraft after the doors had closed - breaching civil aviation rules. Responsibility for civil aviation then shifted to Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter.
We raised our concerns about pilot training and student loan exemptions with Minister Twyford and Minister of Education Chris Hipkins. Minister Twyford declined to get involved and suggested we contact Minister Hipkins. Minister Hipkins replied, acknowledging the significance of the aviation sector to the New Zealand economy. He then spoke of the Government’s need to balance its commitment to subsidising tuition and training costs with its obligation to manage costs and take a balanced view across the education sector. Minister Hipkins said he had no plans to look at aviation student support, adding: “The Government remains concerned that aviation students and graduates tend to have very large student loans they are slow to repay.”
However, as Aviation New Zealand recently advised its members, the Ministry of Education relies on outdated and irrelevant statistics from 2011 to support the Government position on the cap on aviation student borrowing and the limited access to funding. The Ministry now acknowledges this, but we are not aware of any efforts it is taking to address the issue.
NZALPA will closely watch the progress of Opposition MP Hamish Walker’s High-Power Laser Pointers Offences and Penalties Bill, which was drawn from the members’ ballot in September. Early signals last year from the Government indicate it is unlikely to support the Bill at this time, however it is asking officials for more information on whether tougher penalties are the answer and whether the devices can be prohibited officially from all uses in New Zealand; as well as seeking more research on the impact of existing import restrictions. NZALPA has made it clear to the Minister of Transport that this is dragging the chain, and we will speak out publicly if the Bill is defeated without clear progress on complete prohibition of these devices.
We have also made our position on drones clear, but to date progress has been slow. Minister Genter recently confirmed the Ministry of Transport is looking at potential changes to drone regulations in response to the sharp growth in drone numbers, technological advances, and new types of operations. Minister Genter said this included looking at options such as registration, remote identification and geo-awareness capability, as well as reviewing the relevant penalties.
We understand another private member’s bill is being drafted and would require point of sale registration of drones weighing more than 250 grams. We believe this bill will likely mirror the new United Kingdom legislation.
These and other unresolved issues give us plenty to talk about in our next meetings at Parliament. High on our agenda will be review of the Civil Aviation Act (with a focus on Just Culture, Annex 13 and protection of recorded data), the urgent need for drone and laser legislation, and the need for Government movement in the area of student loans and pilot supply.
Finally, in the last Uplink I spoke about NZALPA support of Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust staff dealing with alleged bullying and harassment in their workplace. They had previously contacted the government regulator, WorkSafe, asking for assistance. WorkSafe said the alleged bullying and harassment reported to them was serious and that they would discuss it with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). I ended by saying that it was not clear whether WorkSafe took any further action on the complaint; to date no outcome has been reported back to the staff who contacted WorkSafe.
That has been put into context by recent media reports of WorkSafe receiving a grilling from politicians at a Parliamentary select committee hearing for not prosecuting bullying and harassment cases. WorkSafe officials are reported as saying that workplace bullying was hard to prove and it was applying resources in other areas, where it would get "bang for the buck".
WorkSafe said it does investigate the most serious incidents of harm but that it was very difficult to meet an evidential and public interest test in order to take a criminal prosecution. The Chief Executive said it wanted people to report bullying and, as the demand in health, mental health and bullying area grew, it would build capabilities in the coming years to respond.
I can only reiterate the words of a National member of the select committee, who told the WorkSafe representatives that New Zealanders expect better from a regulatory body.
This is yet another area where there is an urgent need for the Government to step up and do more to protect workers.
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