Air traffic control trainees now considered employees

Agreement applies to all new trainees going forward, says Labour Inspectorate

Air traffic control trainees now considered employees

In a new agreement between the Labour Inspectorate and Airways Corporation of New Zealand (Airways NZ), Air Traffic Controller (ATC) trainees will now be recognized as employees during the practical portion of their training program. This change ensures that trainees will be compensated as employees, addressing long-standing concerns about their employment status and pay.

Previously, ATC trainees in New Zealand spent up to 18 months training without being treated or paid as employees. The Labour Inspectorate’s involvement, sparked by a review of the recruitment and training processes at Airways NZ, has resulted in a significant shift in how these trainees are compensated.

The training program for ATC trainees is divided into two parts. The first part is theory-based, conducted in Christchurch over approximately eight months. The second part involves on-the-job training at various air control towers throughout New Zealand, lasting nine months with trainees working full-time hours. Before the agreement, trainees were only paid an allowance during this practical phase, not a full employee salary.

The Labour Inspectorate’s Regional Manager, Southern, Brendon Strieker, highlighted the importance of this change: “When an inspector started investigating the relationship between the trainees and Airways NZ, they believed the relationship was one of employment, and that the trainees should be considered employees.”

Airways NZ to retroactively calculate pay

This belief led the Labour Inspectorate to seek a formal declaration from the Employment Court that two specific trainees, initially interviewed by an inspector, were indeed employees. Additionally, the Labour Inspectorate sought arrears for minimum wage, annual leave pay, public holiday, and alternative holiday pay for these trainees from the Employment Relations Authority (ERA).

Following the agreement, the Employment Court issued a consent judgement affirming that the two trainees were employees during the second part of their training. Concurrently, the ERA issued a determination by consent, making the agreement between the parties an official order of the Authority.

This agreement has broader implications for all ATC trainees. Airways NZ has committed to retroactively calculating and paying minimum wage, annual leave, public holiday, and alternative holiday entitlements for all participants in the second part of the training over the past six years.

 “The agreement between the parties is welcome because it applies to all new trainees going forward. Also, the employers have agreed to do the calculations for other participants in part 2 of the training going back six years,” said Strieker.

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