Air NZ crews hoping to stall redundancies

Air New Zealand management is facing an escalating industrial stoush over plans to lay off hundreds of flight attendants, while many staff are expressing concerns the company is not doing enough to curb the risks of spreading Covid-19.

The pandemic has forced the national carrier to slash international and domestic flights, as New Zealand's borders are essentially shut to everyone except returning residents or citizens, who are quarantined for two weeks on arrival.

Air NZ flight attendants are claiming 950 of them will be served redundancy notices next week.

They want the process halted, as it started during lockdown, and they have not received proper consultations beyond company-led livestreams.

The staff have launched a letter-writing campaign to MPs, saying: "We ask you to reach out to the Air New Zealand executive team and pledge your support behind our request that the redundancy consultation process is suspended until such time as we enter level 2, and a proper consultation process between the airline and its employees can be facilitated."

The letter also points out Air NZ is getting the wage subsidy - more than $70 million so far, as well as a $900 million government-backed loan.

And for "any fair and reasonable employer," the letter says that comes with obligations.

"We believe commencing a fast-paced redundancy process is not in the spirit of the foundation of the wage subsidy, which was designed to save jobs, protect New Zealand's economy and ensure our nation is equipped with the resources needed to bounce back and recover after the Covid-19 pandemic is contained," the letter read.

"I agree with them it is not fair, and for the sake of another week to show good faith in part of this discussion I think Air NZ should look to do that," National MP Todd McClay said.

"I have written to Air NZ to ask for a meeting, a briefing, and have just made the case to them it is very important all Air NZ employees are treated fairly, and they see the process is fair and robust."

On Tuesday Air NZ staff got a company-wide email celebrating the fact Australians and New Zealanders have chosen the airline as their most trusted, respected and admired brand.

One Air NZ crew member told Checkpoint it was ironic.

"Air New Zealand is focused on their shareholders and protecting their brand rather than their frontline employees. They should be looking inwards to pinpoint savings within their expensive senior leadership and executive team.

"These unsustainable salaries can hardly be justified when the average frontline worker who earns close to minimum wage is being made redundant."

Air New Zealand planes parked up at Auckland Airport. Photo: Air New Zealand via RNZ
Air New Zealand planes parked up at Auckland Airport. Photo: Air New Zealand via RNZ
Air NZ slow to respond to Health Ministry rules on crew layovers

Meanwhile, after previously refusing to release figures, Air NZ confirmed on 22 April that 30 of its workers had been infected with Covid-19.

The admission came after Checkpoint revealed some Air NZ workers were increasingly uncomfortable with crew being exempt from a 14-day stand-down following international flights, to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

"On 19 March, NZ5 arrived at Auckland from LAX on which three passengers tested positive for Covid-19, at least two crew later tested positive. A crew member from that flight, before testing positive, went down to Bluff to attend a wedding, and now we all know about the 'Bluff cluster'," an Air NZ employee told Checkpoint.

Recordings of that meeting have been provided to Checkpoint.

"Important changes for you to know about, particularly if you're aircrew flying internationally," Air New Zealand Chief Medical Officer Dr Ben Johnson told the meeting.

"There are changes around expectations on layover. In the past, there had been some discretion allowed around whether you needed to stay in your hotel room or not, and the wording of that requirement from Ministry of Health was to stay in your hotel room if feasible.

"It is important you know those words have been removed, and the clear expectation is now that you absolutely must stay in your hotel during a layover. There is no discretion, there is no eligible reason that you can leave the hotel, and the Ministry of Health want absolute assurance from Air New Zealand that that is being complied with," he said.

Two weeks before this staff address, Ministry of Health advice to airline crews already clearly stated that crews must remain in hotel rooms during layovers.

But in the meeting, Johnson referred to outdated Ministry of Health advice from 16 March.

The new, tougher rules had been in play for at least a fortnight before the staff briefing on 23 April.

"Compliance with this requirement to stay in your hotel is really, really important," Johnson said to the meeting.

"The New Zealand Government is very sensitive to this issue at the moment, we have been very successful in New Zealand controlling Covid-19 internally, we would like to keep it that way, and I know it's an inconvenience, I know it's hard, but this is part of the role you play keeping the rest of New Zealand safe."

Crew complain of being put up in hotels without room service

Despite tough border controls, Air NZ international crews have largely remained exempt from the 14-day isolation rule, with the exception of crews returning from Los Angeles.

Crews say they are sometimes on layovers for five days due to reduced flight schedules and Air NZ is still using hotels that do not have food on site.

"We are the essential workers as flight crew on the frontline," an Air NZ crew member told Checkpoint.

"Away from our families for days at a time, bringing Kiwis back home, and Air NZ can't even put us in a hotel with room service to comply with the Ministry of Health requirements. We are being set up to fail."

Air New Zealand General Manager Cabin Crew Leeanne Langridge addressed the issue at the online meeting.

"How are we meant to gather food in hotels like LA that have no room service then, if we cannot leave?' It's a good question. What a lot of crew have been saying to me is they have been getting Uber Eats and getting food delivered to the hotel. That's what crew are telling me what they are doing, I'm not sure about pilots but I'm sure they're doing the same," she said.

"There are an increasing number of services that will deliver food to you. I do understand that's a little more expensive," Johnson said.

Documents provided to Checkpoint show concerns have repeatedly been raised about crews not complying with the layover guidelines.

Air Zealand last week conceded crew returning from Vancouver had to self-isolate after allegedly breaching guidelines.

Since that incident, the company has introduced a declaration form that crew must sign on departure and return saying they have followed the rules.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford and Air New Zealand Shareholding Minister Grant Robertson have declined to comment.

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