EPMU members at Air New Zealand subsidiary Zeal 320 Ltd are currently taking industrial action over a disparity of pay that sees flight attendants at Zeal paid tens of thousands of dollars a year less than those employed directly by the Air New Zealand.
The 240 flight attendants at Zeal crew Air New Zealand's A320 fleet, which services part of the airline's Trans-Tasman and Pacific routes as well as a small number of domestic flights.
These workers do the same work on the same routes, wearing the same uniforms as staff directly employed by Air New Zealand. The only difference is that Air New Zealand employs them under a wholly-owned subsidiary on lower terms and conditions.
The union has been in negotiations with Air New Zealand for seven months to try and resolve the issue but has been unable to persuade the company to start addressing the disparity.
As a result, Zeal staff began low-level industrial action on March 28 involving a breach of uniform policy and refusal to fill out some paperwork.
Since April 1 workers have been refusing standby duty. This means the company is having difficulty filling crew requirements at short notice.
From May 7 workers will begin four days of full strike action. If satisfactory progress with the airline is not made we will consider notifying a further four days' action.
The airline's response to the industrial action has been to make constant legal threats and threats of damages to the union and its members, to grossly mislead the public and other staff members about Zeal workers' wages, to attempt to engage strike-breakers and to threaten to "sack and replace" the Zeal staff if the strike action continues. The airline has also issued a lockout notice for the period of the four day strike starting May 7.
Air New Zealand has been attempting to engage the flight attendants it employs directly to strike-break against Zeal and has publicly boasted that it has 100 ready to go in the case of full strike action.
The company has also published large three-colour advertisements in major newspapers advertising for replacement staff to crew its A320 fleet.
Strike-breaking is technically illegal under the Employment Relations Act, however we suspect Air New Zealand will use a loophole in company law to claim that its subsidiary Zeal is merely contracting for the work, and therefore the airline can man the planes itself if Zeal is unable to fulfil its contract.
All the Zeal crew want is for Air New Zealand management to treat them the same as every other flight attendant working on Air New Zealand planes. It's a matter of basic fairness.