Uplink ALPA - The Voice of Aviation

The New Zealand Air Line Pilots' Association Newsletter. As of April 2020 Uplink ALPA is a 6-monthly publication.

Upfront with NZALPA President

Andrew Ridling 

These and other similar headlines have been an all too common part of the public face of aviation over recent months. 

Whilst the headlines highlight certain aviation organisations, we all know there are many to whom they could equally well apply within the aviation industry in New Zealand. 

If shown to be true, these behaviours are unacceptable at any organisation in our industry – or in any industry for that matter. 

I imagine many pilots and air traffic controllers have witnessed or experienced bullying in their workplace. In a safety centric organisation there is no place for bullying or harassment. 

Regulatory and many employer cultures have changed to reflect a zero tolerance for bullying and harassment – but not all workplaces,managers or employees have kept pace with these changes. 

There is no doubt that bullying creates a toxic environment for pilots,air traffic controllers and other staff.We have seen evidence of this in some of the organisations where our members work. This directly impacts on safety.

A culture that ignores, and therefore effectively condones, bullying and harassment is not what any of us want when we select an employer.

Quite apart from the very significant impact on individuals, toxic workplaces have an immeasurable impact on long term engagement, efficiency and productivity, and ultimately on safety. This is potentially devastating for a safety focused industry such as aviation. 

Over my 30-year career with Air New Zealand and NZALPA I have experienced and witnessed ruthless,confidence-reducing disregard and disrespect for some of our pilots and air traffic control members by some of their managers and senior pilot managers. The employers we have challenged on these behaviours have tended to provide excuses rather than accept that they have a bullying culture and dealing with the consequences

Statistics New Zealand recently reported that around 300,000 employed people in New Zealand, or 11 percent of workers, said they had experienced discrimination, harassment, or bullying in the past 12 months.

When our aviation industry leaders condone bullying behaviours or turn a blind eye, they create new problems, which include:

1. The person being bullied experiences loss of confidence and an increase in stress that often shows up in health problems. Their performance will decline. They may need more time off work to recover, creating extra training costs for their employer.It’s also likely to result in lower performances in simulator and performance checking sessions.

2. Bullying creates a toxic culture within the organisation and this will reinforce the reduced operational performance. The bullying behaviour is witnessed by all other pilots and controllers, raising the risk that they will side with the bully, risk retribution by speaking out, remain passive and try to stay under the bully’s radar, or even leave their employment.

3. If the behaviour continues, the bully’s target has no option other than to leave or to start a personal grievance process. Tackling the problem via a personal grievance is likely to result in meetings and actions with the employer,drawing out the unpleasantness and often leading to long term issues for individual and fleet/unit performance.

4. If the source of the bullying is not dealt with, the cycle will almost certainly repeat itself. Organisations and fleets/units that condone bullying are also likely to have prevalent mediocrity, high employee turnover rates, far less revenue per employee, increased absences, and the list goes on and on.

Unchallenged bullying means employers open themselves up to potential litigation under health and safety and employment legislation.
There is no place for bullying behaviour at any level in the aviation industry. Air traffic controllers and pilots need to be able to make professional decisions in an environment that is devoid of personal threats and other bullying behaviours. Safety is everyone's responsibility and all players in the aviation industry must have a "voice". Our industry needs to stand up against these behaviours; increasing transparency and ultimately safety. 

A bully can only thrive in an organisation that allows it. If you see bullying - call it out. 

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