Uplink ALPA - The Voice of Aviation

The New Zealand Air Line Pilots' Association Newsletter.

Upfront with NZALPA President Tim Robinson

Dear All

As Fred Dagg, aka the late great John Clarke, opined, “We just don’t know how lucky we are.”  Having just returned from the annual IFALPA conference in Montreal after learning of John’s death that song remained in my consciousness, providing further resolve that, as the industry’s biggest union,  NZALPA must do all it can to preserve the employment model under which New Zealand aviators and Air Traffic Controllers operate and protect it from any further erosion. 

But it’s no longer just about what pilots think.  NZALPA and the work we do with New Zealand-based airlines and other players in our own aviation industry stood out in Montreal like a haven to the other regions that face, today, what could easily be the tomorrow for New Zealand’s aviation workforce. 

This June Quarterly Uplink also deals with some of the related challenges, perhaps one of the most acute consequences of Open Skies agreements, that the New Zealand industry faces now – that of pilot supply and retention.  See our main feature ‘Piloting our Future’ in this issue. 

Atypical employment under convenient flags

As NZALPA President, it was an honour to be asked to participate in two international panels on the most globally challenging issues facing the industry - Atypical Employment Models and Flags of Convenience. 

Both issues are part of the liberalisation of airspace through various international Open Skies policies. To meet and talk with our global colleagues who deal with the consequences, whether unintended or intentional, was a sobering experience. 

Atypical employment refers to work relationships not conforming to the standard or 'typical' model of full-time, regular, open-ended employment with a single employer.   New Zealand’s Employment Relations Act, in contrast, is a direct-employer model.  After learning first-hand about ‘atypical’ experiences from other pilots, we and IFALPA generally were resolute that these models could not prevail and advocacy for direct employer models must be ramped up. 

Consequences under the European Union charter for example, with its cross-border regulations, freedom of movement,  and other intended benefits, has led to a number of  airlines able to undertake ‘forum shopping’.  Rather than full time employees, they can source independent contractor pilots from a number of countries.  Instead of the relative protections of full time employment, those pilots must take care of their own taxation, rest breaks, accommodation, training, transport and even buy their own uniforms.  Irish-based Ryan Air is a pioneer of this model which is now taking a foothold as it expands through out Europe, including Scandinavian airline SAS – a formally high performing direct employment leader – now considering the model, including basing itself in the much cheaper Ireland. 

Where New Zealand was the envy of many, is that our own multi-award winning national airline, for example, sees customer service and brand loyalty as sound reasons for directly employing staff; and this pays off, giving them the best advantage in the market as well as international passenger accolades. 

While not perfect, NZALPA is concerned that it is only a matter of time until increased competition in our region could lead to atypical employment models and their similar consequences, where, like many airlines now in Europe, they operate for perfunctory reasons – just to do the job and provide cheap travel with the bare minimum of safety standards. 

This is particularly concerning to our nearest colleagues in Australia, as they fear the effects of the Turnbull government’s airspace liberalisation measures aimed particularly toward Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) carriers, which include Singapore and Malaysia, as well as the rapidly growing economies of Vietnam and Indonesia. 

The ASEAN Single Aviation Market ( SAM or Open Skies agreement), ratified last year, is expected to see an explosion in cut price airlines within and outward of this region, including those looking for domestic routes in nearby tourist destinations such as Australia.  For our neighbours it might be a case where government, airports and the tourism industry favour ways to boost overseas visitors and operators over concerns about the risks to their aviation industry.

As well as the erosion to aviation worker rights and welfare, the new ‘atypical’ and associated ‘Flags of Convenience’ models might lead to the most dreaded of consequences – compromises to crew and passenger safety.  Pilots, particularly those less experienced, younger and more financially vulnerable, talk of a prevailing ‘keep your head down culture’.  Whereas pilots have traditionally led in advocacy for workplace safety, particularly in areas of clear standard procedures, fuel policy and airport operations, ‘speak up’ now in many parts of the world and your contract is in jeopardy.

Unsurprisingly, this culture also relates to limiting any worker advocacy or union activity; again this is already the well-documented experience of those working for Ryan Air.  Both NZALPA and our Australian Union counterparts will be watching to see if this is the culture of ASEAN SAM member airlines with their mutual Eight and Ninth ‘Freedoms of Movement’ – the most liberal levels to operate under international Open Skies agreements.  Meanwhile in the US, national carriers such as Delta, American Airlines and United continue to lobby as ‘forum shopping’ poster child Norwegian Air International applies to operate within North America.   

Laptop ban leading to lay offs

The United States and United Kingdom ban on laptops as carry on luggage from flights originating from countries mainly in the Middle East and Gulf is likely to spread to Australia and maybe the rest of Europe.  Those who worked for those airlines discussed the consequences of that ban, which already includes job losses.  This led to presentations at Montreal for IFALPA support and lobbying power to reconsider the ban – especially from the national airline Turkish Airlines which has been hit the hardest.  As well as widespread lay offs of staff, Turkish representatives pleaded for IFALPA as the global pilot body, to do everything it could to intervene on the decision. 

NZALPA leading in communications

An unexpected boost for NZALPA at Montreal was the realisation, through the IFALPA communications panel presentations, that our new communications and lobbying strategy is well ahead of many of our global counterparts.  This was particularly so for our use of web-based social media, digital publications and the development of the dedicated NZALPA app. 

We’re looking at further improvements in this area to make NZALPA communications truly world-leading. 

Keep safe and I look forward to seeing many of you at our own NZALPA Conference this month


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