Air NZ fans flames in union negotiation
The optics of the Air New Zealand strike could hardly be worse, for anyone involved.
Chief executive Christopher Luxon is not only head of the prime minister’s business council – whenever he talks about issues like sustainability or company culture, it sounds like a cross between a sermon and a lecture.
‘‘I believe all New Zealanders, regardless of our backgrounds, are united in wanting to see a more prosperous economy, a more cohesive society, and an enhanced environment,’’ Luxon said when his place on the council was announced.
‘‘At the end of the day we will all get the country we deserve.’’
Now the unions representing Air New Zealand’s engineers say they plan to strike days before Christmas (brace yourself for notices three, two and one days before Christmas).
Air New Zealand responded to the notice with an extraordinary power play.
Instead of calmly promising to try to resolve the situation, Air New Zealand fanned the flames.
‘‘Thousands of holiday plans are at risk after the unions representing Air New Zealand’s aircraft maintenance engineers, aircraft logistics and related staff served notice of a planned strike just four days out from Christmas – on the airline’s busiest travel day of the year,’’ Air New Zealand’s statement announcing the action boomed.
It then went on to point out how highly paid the engineers are, and other points of negotiations.
Forget the tactics being used by the unions for a moment, this is not good faith bargaining. Quite the opposite.
It is no surprise the union fired back, accusing Air New Zealand of misleading information, accusing it of an ‘‘unnecessarily aggressive approach’’.
While the two sides are headed to mediation early next week, they do so with tensions high.
For Jacinda Ardern’s Government, this strike has considerable political risk.
Her opponents warned a Labour-led Government would lead to more strikes.
During 2018, we have already seen bureaucrats marching in Wellington, as well as nationwide action by nurses and teachers, the latter expected to take action again in 2019.
But as disruptive as the strikes by the teachers were, if the airline engineers really do go on strike, the public’s patience will be severely tested.
Travelling at Christmas is painful enough already. It is busy, expensive and the holiday is stressful for many.
The prospect of spending holidays stuck at the airport threatens to turn into actual anger. The unions must take this seriously. It appears that there is currently a degree of public sympathy for workers wanting to use whatever power they have to win better conditions after years of low wage gains. But that sympathy could quickly be exhausted by strikes which look to be deliberately designed to cause distress for families who are using up precious holiday time.
Air New Zealand also need to take this situation very seriously, hopefully much more seriously than its safety videos, which are consistent only in that they appear to be created to annoy us, its owners.
Ardern must wonder why she appointed Luxon to her business council.
The appointment of a chief executive of a state controlled company which has near monopoly powers looked weird when it was announced.
Not only was Luxon in no position to explain the concerns of everyday New Zealand businesses, surely Air New Zealand already had good access to the Government to raise whatever concerns it has.
The prime minister has gushed at Air New Zealand’s approach to doing business, marking its chief executive as something of a favourite.
But if his company cannot avoid a Christmas strike, Luxon’s credibility as an adviser to Ardern will be gone.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with Christopher Luxon, head of the Business Advisory Council.