25 Jul 2019

Police to replace poorly rated roster system for emergency call handlers

11:10 am on 25 July 2019

Police emergency call handlers are the first to hear about some of the most horrific moments in New Zealand each day.

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Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Compounding the stress of their jobs has been a roster which call handlers say is a failure, adding unnecessary stress to their jobs.

But from September, a new roster will be introduced for emergency and non-emergency call handlers, to the relief of communications staff.

The Enhanced Comms Roster will replace the preference-based scheduling, or PBS roster, that has been used in police communications centres since 2015.

Last year, more than 60 percent of staff rated the system as poor or very poor.

Complaints included a person who had to work 56 night shifts in three months, and another who worked one day on, one day off, for an entire month.

Police Association president Chris Cahill said the association worked hard to bring the problems to light through a survey.

"We really had to demonstrate to police the unhappiness," Mr Cahill said.

"But once we had that data through the surveys we did with our staff, police got on board and we've worked pretty well through the process to get it right.

"You can't just swap a roster. You've got to make sure you're moving to a better one that actually has good principles around it, so it will be lasting."

Mr Cahill said some simple additions have made all the difference.

"The challenge in the old roster was you weren't working with the same people all the time, so you didn't really feel like you were part of a team," he said.

"So the new roster promotes teamwork, much better supervision, so you've got consistency of supervision and you have supervision available, and the health and safety principles of rosters.

"You've got things like appropriate breaks, and the appropriate number of weekends off."

The new roster gives staff more concrete information about when they will be working, but it comes with flexibility.

Staff members can mutually agree to swap shifts without the consent of a manager, something that could not happen under the old system.

Detective Superintendent Iain Chapman has been leading the work on the new Enhanced Comms Roster.

"We'll never ever be able to design a roster which is perfect for everyone," Mr Chapman said.

"What we've tried to do is listen to all our people across all parts of the business, the concerns, the wishlists, the positives, and build it into what we now feel we've delivered - an enduring roster that will strike a good balance."

Mr Chapman said the emergency call handlers were the true frontline in police work and their roster would now be aligned with what frontline police officers did.

"I mean, in that work environment it's incredibly stressful," he said.

"They're dealing with some truly exceptional moments in time, be it horrific to joyous to, you know, dealing with people on an hourly basis who are at the absolute worst moments of their lives."

Under the new roster people will work six 9.5-hour days, followed by four days off.

It also allows for more training to staff which was not possible under the previous roster.