A senior Fullers skipper believes continuing troubles with the company's Waiheke service are due to cost-cutting initiatives.

The skipper, who has more than 10 years working experience with the company, says troubles started for the ferry operator when it implemented a number of "cost saving" changes last year.

He said this included reducing crew numbers, reducing crews hours, removing overtime and bonuses for crew working during their time off which had subsequently made it difficult to bring crew in at short notice to cover sickness and staff shortage, and had removed back-up or standby crew from the rosters.

"This unfortunately has had a detrimental impact in staff morale, with many staff now refusing to work on days off, mass resignations, and staff members calling in sick at never before seen rates during my 19 years with the business," said the skipper, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.


However, Fullers Group chief executive Mike Horne disagreed with claims the company had reduced crew hours and overtime, or had experienced issues with sickness or staff shortages outside normal expectations.

"The customer frustrations and resulting abuse directed at our staff is not linked in any way to cost-cutting measures. Rather, these stem from current situations such as weather, survey season or incidents outside the norm. We're listening to our customer's frustrations and working hard to further understand and communicate with them more effectively."

Fullers said the plan to fix the Waiheke ferry fury will start with immediate action around wharf management and prioritising elderly and frail commuters.

But the skipper who spoke to the Herald said the two vessels which were reported to have experienced overloads were not one-off occurrences and were "almost a daily occurrence" on the service.

He said since the company had implemented cost cutting measures the maintenance budget had been slashed which had resulted in "more frequent breakdowns" and when they did occur it now took longer to fix the vessels.

"On a daily basis the afternoon Waiheke services during the week has at least one cancellation and numerous overloads due to staff shortages," he said, adding that he was at a loss as to why one of the smallest vessels were deployed for the Waiheke route.

Mike Horne, chief executive of Fullers Group. Photo / Supplied
Mike Horne, chief executive of Fullers Group. Photo / Supplied

Crew on a service on Saturday were subject to an incident "where the gangway was held hostage", he said.

"The vessel only had 4 crew onboard which due to minimum safe crewing allowed only 299 passengers on. If the vessel was fully crewed with 5 staff it could carry its maximum capacity of 400 passengers and there would have been no issues," he said.


"There was no 5th crew member due to 'cost cutting' which saved paying a 'onboard services crew member' $18.50 a hour for 2 hours."

Horne refuted the sources' claims - he said Fullers had increased staffing and the number of services compared to the amount last year, and was working to support its staff.

He said the company invested more than $1 million on staff training annually, and that the company would continue to provide resilience training for its frontline staff.