Air New Zealand engineers have scheduled a strike Dec. 21 that threatens to disrupt the carrier’s operations on one of its busiest travel days, although further negotiations are planned in an effort to resolve the contract dispute.
The strike announcement on Dec. 6 followed voting earlier this week by almost 1,000 workers represented by the Aviation and Marine Engineers Association and the E tū union, a multi-industry labor group. The unions say 95% of those voting were in favor of striking. Air New Zealand said the unions have advised the company to expect further industrial action.
The unions said they have agreed to a mediation meeting with Air New Zealand Engineering management on Dec. 10. The unions said they will “carry on bargaining in good faith in the hopes of reaching a deal.” The airline said it remains “committed to working closely with the engineers’ unions to reach a reasonable agreement and avoid strike action if at all possible.”
Nearly 42,000 customers are booked to travel domestically and internationally on Dec. 21, Air New Zealand said, and they “now face potential flight cancellations.” Notably, the airline’s regional turboprop operations will not be affected as their engineers are in a different work group.
The contract negotiations involved in the dispute cover line and base maintenance engineers, as well as aircraft logistics and related staff. The unions note this includes not just engineers, but store workers and aircraft cleaners.
Air New Zealand said the negotiations have only been underway with this group for six weeks, so “industrial action is entirely premature.”
According to a statement from the carrier, the average annual wage for the affected workers is NZ$115,000 ($79,000), with 170 of them earning more than NZ$150,000. The airline said these workers have had annual pay rises for the past 12 years, and have “so far rejected recent proposals by the airline” that include an immediate 2% pay rise, followed by a 3% increase after 12 months, and a further pay review in mid-2021.
The airline also proposed standardizing overtime pay at 150% of the regular pay rate, compared to the current overtime rates that are a mixture of 150% and 200% of regular pay. Included in the offer was a NZ$6,400 one-off payment to compensate the change in overtime rates. Other features of the offer included an extra week of annual leave after five years’ service.
The unions noted that Air New Zealand has been making record profits, and accused the carrier of taking “an unnecessarily aggressive approach” to negotiations. “This is not just about pay,” the E tū union said. “It’s about repeated proposals by the airline weeks out from Christmas to pay [engineers] less than colleagues who have already settled, and to cut into key conditions, including overtime rates.”