Air NZ hopes to avoid Christ­mas strike

Mediation is set down for Mon­day for en­gi­neers in­sulted by the air­line’s pay of­fer.

Nelson Mail - - Business - Su­san Ed­munds and John An­thony

Unions will meet with Air New Zealand on Mon­day to try to re­solve a pay dis­pute and avert a strike planned for the air­line’s busiest travel day of the year.

Air New Zealand air­craft main­te­nance en­gi­neers, air­craft lo­gis­tics and re­lated staff have sched­uled a strike four days out from Christ­mas.

Air New Zealand said close to 42,000 cus­tomers booked to travel do­mes­ti­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally on that date would face po­ten­tial flight can­cel­la­tions if it went ahead.

The Avi­a­tion and Ma­rine En­gi­neers As­so­ci­a­tion (AMEA) and E tu¯ no­ti­fied the air­line on Thurs­day of a to­tal strike by al­most 1000 unionised em­ploy­ees on De­cem­ber 21.

The unions have also ad­vised the air­line to ex­pect fur­ther in­dus­trial ac­tion.

Air­craft main­te­nance en­gi­neers work in the hangar at air­ports and in work­shops to carry out main­te­nance, iden­tify de­fects, un­der­take mod­i­fi­ca­tions, re­pair and ser­vice.

That in­cludes sign­ing off air­craft prior to de­par­ture, as well as man­ag­ing the avail­abil­ity of air­craft parts and re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties.

The air­line said that while the group has re­ceived pay in­creases an­nu­ally for the past 12 years, it has so far re­jected re­cent pro­pos­als in­clud­ing an im­me­di­ate 2 per cent in­crease fol­lowed by a fur­ther 3 per cent in­crease af­ter 12 months, with a fur­ther pay re­view in mid-2021.

Staff have also de­clined a pro­posal to stan­dard­ise over­time pay to 150 per cent of the reg­u­lar pay rate (cur­rently, over­time is paid at a mix of dou­ble time and time-and-a-half), and a $6400 one-off pay­ment to ad­dress the change in rate.

Only some of this work group did reg­u­lar over­time but the pay­ment would be made to ev­ery­one em­ployed un­der this col­lec­tive agree­ment, the air­line said.

Along with pay, claims on the air­craft main­te­nance en­gi­neers’ side have in­cluded an ex­tra week of an­nual leave for em­ploy­ees with five years’ ser­vice, free re­served carpark­ing spa­ces within 500 me­tres of their work­place, and the right to rene­go­ti­ate terms just prior to the busy Christ­mas sea­son again next year, the air­line said.

In a state­ment, AMEA said the pay of­fer was un­fair at a time when the air­line was mak­ing sub­stan­tial prof­its. It was less than of­fers made to other em­ployee groups at the air­line and mem­bers felt in­sulted.

‘‘We have been in ne­go­ti­a­tions with Air New Zealand for months. If Air New Zealand was gen­uinely con­cerned about its cus­tomers, it would have re­solved this mat­ter early and qui­etly. That is good man­age­ment.’’

AMEA’s state­ment said the en­gi­neers had been threat­ened with more heavy main­te­nance work be­ing sent over­seas.

‘‘In 2013 heavy main­te­nance wide-body checks, which were then car­ried out in Auck­land, were out­sourced to Asia. In the same year Air New Zealand tried to force one group of en­gi­neers to carry out the work of an­other. This fol­lowed a sig­nif­i­cant con­tract­ing out of heavy main­te­nance work in 2006.

‘‘Air New Zealand is now threat­en­ing to send nar­row-body heavy main­te­nance work over­seas, which is cur­rently per­formed in Christchurch. These are highly qual­i­fied em­ploy­ees who en­sure air­craft are safe to fly. They have been re­peat­edly kicked by Air New Zealand man­age­ment, and they have had enough.’’

The union said the work­ers were not only fight­ing for a de­cent pay rise but for the fu­ture of air­craft main­te­nance in New Zealand.

The air­line said the av­er­age in­come of the main­te­nance en­gi­neers, lo­gis­tics and other staff to strike was $115,000 and about 170 of them earn more than $150,000.

Air New Zealand chief ex­ec­u­tive Christo­pher Luxon, mean­while, earned more than $4 mil­lion in the year ended on June 30.

Air New Zealand’s gen­eral man­ager of air­craft main­te­nance, Viv de Beus, said the news was ex­tremely dis­ap­point­ing and it ap­peared the en­gi­neers were de­lib­er­ately us­ing Kiwi fam­i­lies’ hol­i­days as a bar­gain­ing chip.

‘‘It would be dev­as­tat­ing to see the hol­i­day plans of more than 40,000 hard-work­ing Ki­wis and in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors ru­ined.

‘‘We have only been in ne­go­ti­a­tions with this group for six weeks so in­dus­trial ac­tion is en­tirely pre­ma­ture. We re­main com­mit­ted to work­ing closely with the en­gi­neers’ unions to reach a rea­son­able agree­ment and avoid strike ac­tion if at all pos­si­ble.’’

E tu¯ ’s head of avi­a­tion, Sav­age, said the unions were dis­ap­pointed with ‘‘mis­lead­ing in­for­ma­tion’’ re­leased by the air­line in re­la­tion to the strike no­tice. ‘‘Air New Zealand had taken an un­nec­es­sar­ily ag­gres­sive ap­proach.’’

It would bar­gain from Mon­day in the hope of reach­ing a deal, he said.

‘‘This is not just about pay. It’s about re­peated pro­pos­als by the air­line weeks out from Christ­mas to pay them less than col­leagues who have al­ready set­tled, and to cut into key con­di­tions, in­clud­ing over­time rates,’’ he said.

‘‘This af­fects line and hangar en­gi­neers, but also store work­ers and air­craft clean­ers, who are cov­ered by the same doc­u­ment and who are strug­gling to get ahead.’’

Mem­bers felt un­der-ap­pre­ci­ated and un­der at­tack, he said.

‘‘In avi­a­tion, there is a con­stant down­ward pres­sure on costs driven by air­lines. The re­sult is a race to the bot­tom on wages and con­di­tions,’’ Sav­age said.

Air New Zealand will com­mu­ni­cate with cus­tomers booked to travel on De­cem­ber 21 closer to the travel date.

Jet­star said it was too early to com­ment on whether it could ex­pect a rush of book­ings on that date.

Cus­tomers are asked to avoid call­ing Air New Zealand’s cus­tomer con­tact cen­tre in the mean­time as no fur­ther in­for­ma­tion is avail­able at this stage.

Cus­tomers booked to travel on Air New Zealand’s re­gional tur­bo­prop air­craft fleet will not be af­fected as this fleet is main­tained by a sep­a­rate work group.

House of Travel com­mer­cial di­rec­tor Brent Thomas said the strike would have a ‘‘sig­nif­i­cant im­pact’’ on travel if it was to go ahead. ‘‘There would be a num­ber of very grumpy peo­ple.’’

Be­cause the days lead­ing up to and fol­low­ing De­cem­ber 21 would be ex­tremely busy for Air New Zealand, the abil­ity for the air­line to move peo­ple would be lim­ited, Thomas said.

‘‘A lot of in­dus­tries will be shut­ting their doors on that day and a lot of peo­ple will be trav­el­ling.

‘‘The prob­lem they are go­ing to have is if it does go ahead there will be a com­pound­ing im­pact.’’

He said the air­line might need to put big­ger planes on some routes.

If the strike goes ahead, book­ings for De­cem­ber 21 will be af­fected.

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