Air NZ announced:
The Aviation and Marine Engineers Association (AMEA) and E tū, notified the airline yesterday evening of a total strike by almost a thousand unionised employees on Friday 21 December. The unions have also advised to expect further industrial action.
Close to 42,000 customers booked to travel domestically and internationally on 21 December alone now face potential flight cancellations.
The average income of the maintenance engineers, logistics and other staff to strike is $115,000 – more than double the average wage in New Zealand – and around 170 of them earn more than $150,000. Work undertaken by this employee group includes carrying out scheduled aircraft maintenance, unscheduled repair work and signing off aircraft prior to departure, as well as managing the availability of aircraft parts and related activities.
While the group has received pay increases annually for the past 12 years, it has so far rejected recent proposals by the airline including an immediate two percent pay increase followed by a further three percent increase after 12 months, with a further pay review in mid-2021.
So they’re going to destroy Xmas for tens of thousands of families by striking because a 5% pay rise is not enough.
Along with pay, claims on the aircraft maintenance engineers’ side have included an extra week of annual leave for employees with five years’ service (taking shift workers to six weeks a year), free reserved car parking spaces within 500 metres of their workplace, and the right to renegotiate terms just prior to the busy Christmas season again next year.
Six weeks annual leave plus a free car park. With six weeks annual leave plus stat holidays that means you are working only 10 out of 12 months. Or to put it another way, you are almost getting paid 5 days for working four.
The optics of the Air New Zealand strike could hardly be worse, for anyone involved.
For Jacinda Ardern’s Government, this strike has considerable political risk. Her opponents warned that 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 so deliberately designed to cause distress for families who are using up precious holiday time.
Who will blink first?