Air NZ hopes to avoid Christmas strike
Mediation is set down for Monday for engineers insulted by the airline’s pay offer.
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.