31 Mar 2009

Control tower dispute settled - Airways NZ

3:25 pm on 31 March 2009

A dispute involving rest breaks for air traffic controllers that threated to disrupt dozens of regional flights has been resolved.

An amendment to the Employment Relations Act had meant some towers, staffed by a sole charge air traffic controller, could be closed for two periods of about 40 minutes each day from Wednesday.

This would have affected control towers at Rotorua, Gisborne, Napier, Invercargill and possibly Blenheim airports.

Air New Zealand said the Airline Pilots Association had been insisting controllers take their breaks at scheduled times, rather than working flexibly as they have in the past.

However, Airways New Zealand chief executive Ashley Smout told Morning Report an agreement reached with the union on Monday night means the towers will not have to close.

Air New Zealand had warned the closures would have forced the cancellation of 25 regional flights a week and that jobs would have been at risk at two of its regional airlines, Air Nelson and Eagle Air.

Government intervention

On Monday, Prime Minister John Key raised the possibility that the Government would intervene to solve the dispute.

Mr Key said the Government would legislate if the union and the Airways Corporation could not resolve the issue using common sense.

Union leaders and employers are surprised the row blew up at all, saying the law was designed with flexibility and common sense in mind.

Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly says the new law, which makes rest breaks and meal breaks for workers mandatory, is flexible enough to work in almost all cases, including sole charge operations

She says more than a million workers will benefit from the change.

Andy Cuming, of the Motor Trades Association, says the businesses he represents are happy with the law.

He says it is flexible enough to allow present systems to continue even for those on sole charge night shifts such as petrol station attendants.

Both sides in the control tower dispute say they approached Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson weeks ago asking for an exemption from the rule, but were declined.

Ms Wilkinson says the Government felt the legislation already had sufficent flexibility, and as minister she cannot get involved in individual employment disputes.