Chinese crew ‘paid peanuts'

Air New Zealand's Shanghai-based flight attendants are being paid a quarter the salary of their New Zealand colleagues - less than the legal minimum wage in this country.

The Chinese attendants - who work side-by-side with New Zealanders on flights between Auckland and Shanghai - also get paid a third the allowances given to their counterparts while they are working away from home.

Six Chinese Air NZ flight attendants told the Weekend Herald there had been a ‘‘growing unhappiness about money issues'' among staff, with one describing the situation as ‘‘staff being disgusted at being treated like monkeys and being paid peanuts''.

One who has since left the airline is taking legal action.

They have asked not to be named for fear of reprisal, but say there is increasing resentment over pay discrepancies between Chinese staff and their New Zealand counterparts; specifically, the Chinese were unhappy at how much more money the others were getting.

One staff member said: ‘‘I remember feeling the pain when I see the others being able to go out to party while we don't even have enough money for movies and McDonald's.''

Air New Zealand said last night that the Chinese crew were employed by a company in China and it was unfair to compare the salaries.

New Zealand flight attendants have a starting base salary of at least $24,000 per year.
A source said on top of this, crew received $170 for each day they spent overseas, plus other flight allowances, which could add up to $15,000 a year.

The Chinese have an annual wage starting at $6240, with a daily allowance of $55.

One Chinese air stewardess said her monthly base salary was 3000 yuan (NZ$520) and she got an extra 25 yuan (NZ$4.30) for every hour of flight time.

This still works out to far less than New Zealand's legal minimum wage of $11.25 per hour.

Air New Zealand said it did not need to meet the minimum wage because staff were on secondment from a Chinese company, Fasco, which was the real employer of the airline's Chinese crew.

However, each of the staff has been issued with a New Zealand work permit stating Air New Zealand as the employer, not Fasco.

‘‘We were led to believe that we will be working for Air NZ, then after we are successful, they will drop the bomb telling us we are to sign a contract with a Chinese company and will be employed under Chinese terms,'' one air stewardess said.

Another, a New Zealand resident who completed her education here and applied for the position in New Zealand, thought it was just ‘‘bad luck'' that she had a Chinese passport.

She said: ‘‘If I were Kiwi, I would have been paid a lot more for the same work I do.''

Ed Sims, group general manager of Air New Zealand, said his company did not set the pay, ‘‘Fasco does, and our contract is with Fasco and not the individual''.

‘‘I believe Fasco has set salaries based on the market relativity in China,'' he said.

One of the flight attendants is taking legal action against Air New Zealand and New Zealand Immigration.

The Department of Labour, which oversees immigration, said it was aware that Fasco was the employer of the Chinese staff but would not say why Air New Zealand was named as employer on the permits

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