Air NZ fans flames in union ne­go­ti­a­tion

Waikato Times - - National News | Politics - Hamish Rutherford

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.

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