My job: Paul Barton, explosives technician
Few workplaces get extra pay for working in tanks or handling tear gas.
For Paul Barton, 43, an explosives technician for the New Zealand Defence Force, “sniffing a bit of tear gas powder” is just another day at work.
“You start sneezing and get watery eyes,” he says. “But it doesn’t last long.”
Paul is one of seven explosive ordinance technicians at the Kauri Point Defence Ammunition Depot on Auckland’s North Shore.
The team get 2% extra pay for doing unusual tasks. Paul, the site delegate, was key to winning it.
An unusual job
Paul’s son Patrick, 15, loves telling his friends what his dad does.
“I think he embellishes it a bit,” says Paul, a single dad. “He makes it sound like the movies: blowing stuff up all the time and shooting guns.”
He says the team’s core role is to issue, store, inspect for safety, pack and load arsenal, but admits the team gets to dispose of it too.
“Ammunition has a shelf life, just like your milk and bread,” explains Paul. “When it reaches the end of its life, we dig a big hole, put it in, cover it and blow it up.”
All Army, Navy and Air Force ammunition enters New Zealand through Kauri Point, from small .22 calibre bullets to guided missiles.
One of Paul’s core jobs is to manage the depot’s electronic inventory.
A dangerous job?
“People have to remember what they see in the movies is not what actually happens with explosions, bombs and bullets,” says Paul. “There are strict safety procedures put in place to ensure accidents don’t happen.”
Most ammunition has safety features. Certain things have to be done before it arms and goes off, he says.
“There aren’t any timers ticking down from one minute.”
Paul says the only work injuries have been the odd strained back from lifting ammunition.
“Arsenal is securely stored in buildings dotted around the depot, away from the public,” he says. “A barrier arm and warning signs mark an invisible “blue line”, the maximum blast range for stored ammunition.”
Paul became the site delegate six years ago and a national delegate in 2012.
“Everyone was unhappy with how management was treating us,” he says. “One day I walked into the manager’s office and told them while we could find common ground, the team wouldn’t back down from a fight.
“I’ve pretty much been the delegate ever since.”
Although he hasn’t been an “official” delegate before, Paul has been in the role before.
“In previous jobs I regularly saw workers being trod on by management,” he says. “I always stood up because I don’t like seeing my mates getting a raw deal.”
“I’ve had my neck on the line [so many] times I’m amazed I’ve still got a neck. But that’s how to get results.”
In 2012 he was central to negotiating a new pay scale for explosive technicians worth around $5,000.
He says the trick to being a delegate is knowing what you want, but also having an open mind, listening and taking on board manager’s concerns.
This article is from the March 2014 issue of the PSA Journal. You can read back issues of the Journal by clicking here.