Customs has laid off more than half its airport officers after the cancellation or nearly all the country’s international flights.
Only one scheduled flight is arriving each week, and that Air New Zealand flight carries only cargo, not passengers.
Xavier Mitchell, Customs Service Controller, said those laid off were considered to be casual workers under the Employment Relations Act 2012.
They were paid via a cost recovery mechanism with the airlines, he said, so if there were no flights coming in then there was no money to pay the workers.
There were about 40 Customs airport officers.
“Recently flights coming to the Cook Islands have reduced by 96 per cent. This is down from around 27 a week to one. This is the reason for the reduction in Customs’ airport officer numbers,” Mitchell said.
From the outset of Covid-19, Mitchell said Customs wanted to assist those people who were removed from the airport roster.
All of them were given an opportunity to apply for work with the Ministry of Health, he added.
“Six people took up this offer. Others wanted to apply for the unemployment benefit and we also assisted them with this.”
Mitchell said there were no plans to remove the remaining 45 per cent of the workforce from the airport roster.
“We are currently working with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management to redeploy the remaining people.”
Public sector agencies are not eligible for the wage subsidy programme under the government’s Covid-19 economic recovery plan.