A Jetstar pilot has won the right to take meal and rest breaks during shifts in a landmark decision that could have consequences for other industries.
In a ruling that could affect the employment conditions of all Jetstar pilots and other employees, the Employment Court agreed with Christchurch-based pilot Robert Greenslade that he should have been given breaks for the past three-and-a-half years.
It ruled Jetstar had misinterpreted the Employment Relations Act and failed "comprehensively" in its arguments against its obligations to provide breaks.
The ruling overturns an earlier decision by the Employment Relations Authority, which found Jetstar had not breached statutory regulations by not allowing specified meal and rest breaks.
Mr Greenslade flies an Airbus A320 domestically, to Australia and to Fiji and operates with scheduled turn-around times of 30 minutes for domestic fights and 40 minutes for international.
While on the ground, he is required to perform numerous duties, often leaving him no time to rest or eat.
Jetstar A320 pilots are given meals to eat alternately while on the flight deck, but only when the concentration of both pilots is not required.
For some short-haul flights, both pilots' concentration is required for the duration.
Mr Greenslade told the court, during his eight-hour shifts he should be allowed to take three 10-minute rest breaks and one 30-minute break.
He conceded those breaks should be taken while the plane is grounded as to not affect operations.
Jetstar argued the implementation of rest and meal breaks would have an impact on the airline's financial position because it relies on quick turn-around times for aircraft.
"It was even suggested that the most drastic consequence of a finding in the plaintiff's favour might be Jetstar's withdrawal from operations based in New Zealand," the court ruling said.
The court said the airline's choice to structure its operations as low cost/low yield "does not justify a departure from these minimum statutory requirements".
"As [Mr Greenslade's lawyer] Rodney Harrison QC aptly observed, it is no more a defence to an airline operator to contend that provision of statutory entitlements is inconsistent with its low cost operating model than it is for a garment sweatshop operator to do so."
The court also said Jetstar's argument that an individual agreement meant Mr Greenslade was not entitled to breaks was incorrect.
Both Jetstar and Mr Greenslade asked to be able to resolve compensation themselves.