Air NZ confirms tattoo backdown

Sydney Heremaia said he was turned down for a job in March because of his tā moko. Photo: NZME.
Sydney Heremaia said he was turned down for a job in March because of his tā moko. Photo: NZME.
Air New Zealand has announced changes that will see all staff able to ''proudly'' display their non-offensive tattoos at work - reversing a controversial long-standing policy.

From September 1 all new and existing Air New Zealand staff will be able to have Tā Moko and/or non-offensive tattoos visible when wearing their uniform or normal business dress.

Chief executive Christopher Luxon says the airline is committed to building a diverse and inclusive workplace that truly reflects the makeup of the country.

"I'm extremely proud to be making this announcement. It reinforces our position at the forefront of the airline industry in embracing diversity and enabling employees to express individuality or cultural heritage."

The changes follow five months' research with Air New Zealand customers and employees - and several high-profile cases of applicants missing out on roles because of visible tattoos. The airline has been accused of hypocrisy for promoting the koru logo while preventing staff with tattoos from displaying them.

Luxon said it was important that this change applied equally to all Air New Zealand staff.

''We want to liberate all our staff, including uniform wearers such as cabin crew, pilots and airport customer service teams, who will, for the first time, be able to have non-offensive tattoos visible when wearing their uniforms.''

Research indicates that one in five adult New Zealanders has at least one tattoo, with more than 35 per cent of those under 30 being inked.

"In conversations we've had with customers and our own people domestically and overseas in the past five months, it's clear that there is growing acceptance of tattoos in New Zealand, particularly as a means of cultural and individual expression.''

Luxon said it was important for the airline to keep up with change in social norms - but it was still a case of securing the best person for the job.

"As New Zealand's most attractive employer we get a very large number of applications for every available role and the reality is that most applicants are not successful.

"However, I can guarantee that no one will be turned down because of their tattoo as long as it's not offensive or inappropriate.

"There is an expectation that Air New Zealand will represent our country and our people authentically to the world and having a workforce who can bring their true selves to work is an important part of that."

The Green Party has commended Air New Zealand for updating a hiring policy that it called discriminatory.

The party's co-leader Marama Davidson said she had been shocked to hear of people still being denied job interviews for wearing their whakapapa on their skin.

''Tā moko is an identity marker, not offensive 'body art', and I am pleased that Air New Zealand will finally be leaving these attitudes in the past," she said.

"This type of discrimination is completely at odds with their brand and the work they have done to promote Māori culture on their services. It's great that they responded positively to feedback and will be ditching this policy."

Māori cultural heritage needs to be understood as unique to Aotearoa and celebrated in all situations," Davidson said.

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