Union calls for Air NZ to allow workers better influence over company's direction

updated By Jessica Tyson

The union E Tū representing around 4,000 Air New Zealand staff are calling for Air New Zealand to allow their staff to have a better influence on the decisions made around their jobs.

Air New Zealand is expected to lay off around 3,500 people because its revenue has dropped from nearly $6bil to $500mil due to the impact of COVID-19.

E Tū Assistant National Secretary Rachel Mackintosh wants union members involved in all decisions where the airline is concerned.

“We are calling on [Air New Zealand] to go back to the practices that they’ve had until very recently which is proper engagement and forums where the voices of the people doing the work are really heard and that the workers can have some influence of the direction of the company.”

She says the staff are feeling devastated about losing their jobs.

"When you work for Air New Zealand the company calls its staff Air New Zealanders. So when people get laid off they’re not just losing income, they’re losing jobs, they’re really losing, it’s almost like a nationality."

Air New Zealand received a $900mil bailout from the government and the wage subsidy has been extended to help staff. But even in a year Air New Zealand be 30 per cent smaller than it is today.

Mackintosh says the union is calling on the airline to listen to the voices of staff and treat them with dignity.

“It’s more than just a commercial enterprise Air New Zealand. It’s our national carrier. It’s got a huge central part now. Infrastructure, not just our physical infrastructure but the social infrastructure of this country.”

She says Air New Zealand is putting profit before people.

“So instead of taking more account of the needs of the staff at this time it is looking really to cut costs and to save money. That is what they’ve stated they’re doing.”

Mackintosh says for Air New Zealand staff who have a membership with E Tū, 70 per cent of the international crew will be left without jobs as well as 30 per cent of staff right across the company.

Among the overall E Tū membership, it’s going to be closer to 40 per cent, she says.

Mackintosh says 900 long-haul aircrew, 1500 aircrew, ground staff and people working in engineering will be affected.

“It’s right across,” she says.

Air New Zealand says process hasn't been rushed

An Air New Zealand spokesperson confirmed that as a result of the financial damage caused by COVID-19, Air New Zealand has been forced to undergo a significant programme of cost reductions.

"In addition to cost savings right across our business, Air New Zealand has taken the step of reducing our workforce by 3,500 roles."

The spokesperson says the process has not been rushed and consultation has been very comprehensive and in good faith.  

"We started talking to staff and unions about these issues nine weeks ago and have done everything possible since then to collaborate and reduce the number of compulsory redundancies, including calling for voluntary exits, leave without pay, applying for the Government wage subsidy and exploring redeployment and part-time options.

"We also worked with our staff to establish a furlough scheme, however this was not supported by E Tū. We will continue to work on a furlough option for our people regardless."

The spokesperson says staff have been able to seek clarity on all questions they may have about the proposed changes to their employment.

"In addition to more than 700 meetings with managers, we have run 128 Live Streams for staff since the 16th of March."

The spokesperson says the company understands it is a very difficult time for their people.

"Those leaving the business have all received a personal phone call from their manager and we also provided career transition assistance, financial planning information and a range of wellbeing support tools. We will continue to have constructive discussions with our staff and our four unions as we work to protect Air New Zealand’s future and do our best to retain the 9000 jobs that remain."

Mackintosh says E Tū hopes to sit down with the company leaders to talk about the future and about the effect on the company and communities.