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Action at Air Nelson "Disappointing"

Media Release 17 July 2008

New Zealand Air Line Pilots' Association Action at Air Nelson "Disappointing"

Air New Zealand says it is disappointed that NZALPA-represented pilots at its subsidiary Air Nelson will proceed with three full-day withdrawals of labour from tomorrow, impacting hundreds of children and parents during the busy school holiday travel period.

Air Nelson pilots who are negotiating their new collective agreement have been taking industrial action for the past four months, and have
served notice of three full-day withdrawals of labour for later this week.

The industrial action is effective Friday, Saturday and Sunday, coinciding with the last weekend of school holidays, and will affect approximately 10,000 customers.

Air New Zealand Group General Manager Short Haul Airlines Bruce Parton said it appeared NZALPA did not fully appreciate the challenging commercial environment in which the company was operating, and the profound impact of sky-rocketing costs of fuel.

"NZALPA's claims are unsustainable and in total would cost Air Nelson more than $8 million annually. Their claims around time off, including weekends, would require Air Nelson to employ more than 30 additional pilots, at an annual cost of more than $3.5 million. Other claims relating to rostering, pay and allowances would cost the company a further $4.5 million."

The airline would have no choice but to pass on these costs to customers through higher air fares if it was to accede to NZALPA's claims.

"We have worked too hard to make low-cost travel accessible to customers in regional New Zealand to be forced into having to hike fares so that 160 pilots can enjoy a longer weekend. That just won't wash with the average New Zealander trying to cope with higher mortgage, fuel and food costs."

Mr Parton said that on average Air Nelson line pilots worked 31 duty hours a week, and the NZALPA claims around time off would reduce these duty hours by 20% to just 25 hours a week.

"Air Nelson pilots already get a number of days off each roster, including at least one guaranteed weekend, and Air Nelson's rostering system delivers far better lifestyle provisions than other regional carriers in Australasia," Mr Parton says.

Pilots also have four days holiday on offer over and above their four weeks' annual leave, recognising the extended duties required of a rostered employee in a business that operates seven days a week.

Air Nelson Captains earn on average more than $97,000, and its pilots based in Nelson are in the top five percent of Nelson wage earners. More than half of Air Nelson's pilots are Captains. Pilots also receive an average $7000 in tax-free allowances each year on top of their salary.

The majority of Air Nelson pilots have also received annual service-based pay increases over the past two years.

Over the past three years, the average Captain's salary had increased 32%, and the average First Officer's salary had increased 23%, largely due to Air Nelson's decision to introduce a new aircraft type, the Bombardier Q300.

There are also more promotional opportunities for pilots in the airline due to the increased fleet of Q300 aircraft and new services.

Mr Parton said he was disappointed that the strike would go ahead given NZALPA had succeeded in its application for facilitated bargaining, which is expected to commence within the next two weeks.

"We are struggling to understand NZALPA's motives in continuing with strike action while we await the outcomes of facilitated bargaining," he says.

"The full withdrawal of labour over three days seems to serve little purpose other than to damage the commercial viability of a business that is providing services to approximately 50,000 travellers each week and supporting more than 400 families throughout the country through wages and salaries."

Mr Parton said it was a cynical move by NZALPA to ramp up its industrial action in the last weekend of the school holidays.

"The school holidays are one of the busiest travel periods of the year, and we will notify as many customers as possible in advance of any schedule changes that may affect them," he said.

"Our team is working as hard as we can to ensure that any disruption is minimal. Certainly the continued action of the NZALPA pilots is placing enormous strain on their colleagues who have to juggle schedules daily and deal with affected passengers."

Mr Parton said the Air Nelson management and board had the full support of the Air New Zealand executive team.

He said it was disappointing but not unexpected that the negotiations with NZALPA which began in July last year, had progressed at such a painstaking rate.

"Negotiations with NZALPA typically take 12-18 months and include some form of industrial action. Sadly, only one negotiation between Air Nelson and NZALPA in the past 10 years has been concluded without industrial action."


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