Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Air NZ; A Zeal for crushing their workers?

The blogosphere abhors a vacuum, and anytime you forget to write about something you can be reasonably certain sooner or later someone else will cover it for you.

I've been awfully slack about covering the situation at Zeal 320, a subsidiary of 80% Government owned Air New Zealand which has been treating workers shoddily through a pay and conditions dispute now in it's eighth month. Zeal 320's workforce of cabin crew is mainly composed of women, and they're paid significantly less than their colleagues doing the same work at Air NZ. Plus Air NZ is being pretty blatant about using strike breakers to undermine the union members.

The Standard has been covering the dispute in some detail recently, and a woman going by the moniker Zeal Girl has emailed me to let me know about her fresh and juicy new blog on the issue; Zealgirl's Blog. She's chronicling some of the unfairness, such as leaving the Zeal320 crew out of their annual Employment Culture Survey, changing departure and wake-up times to break the employment contract, and generally treating the Zeal320 workers like dirt.

A few months back I saw Rob Fyfe, Air NZ's CEO, on the telly talking about his approach to employment relations. He was doing what we in the union movement call "systematic marginalisation", where he was selling a We Can Be Trusted message to staff; spending a few days doing various low-paid jobs within the company (assumedly not on those low wages), talking about how he really wanted to hear directly from staff about their concerns, giving out his supposedly direct email to anyone, etc. The general trick is that once you have marginalised any organisation amongst your staff, by convincing them they don't need a union because your door is always open, we're like a big family, blah blah blah, you then switch modes to We Can't Be Beaten. Which does what it says on the box; kills off any hope that people might have that they can oppose management or have any power over their work.

Sounds like Zeal320 are well into We Can't Be Beaten, and other Air NZ workers should take note. If you're flying anytime soon please be nice to the cabin crew, because their boss certainly isn't.


katy said...

Last month I was on an international Air NZ flight where the Zeal workers were taking industrial action (messing with the uniform, wearing stickers etc). I heard the people around me speaking supportively of this. Then I arrived at my destination in Australia and wasn't able to get my bags as the local Qantas staff (who unload these) made the decision to go on strike as my plane landed and though we could disembark, all the luggage was taken back to Auckland. This actually really really sucked; I was there for a meeting the same afternoon and had to make a frantic trip to David Jones to buy a new suit which was an expense I could have done without. Other passengers had medication etc in their bags.

So while it was heartening in both cases to see staff taking this action and as a passenger it was sufficiently inconvenient that I was really annoyed with both employers for allowing the situation to get to this point. Marginalising the unions so that workers can't negotiate collectively won't solve these problems either; these are jobs where you want people with a high level of skill and commitment and it is the unions, representing the workers, that protect the terms and conditions that support such a culture.

Anna said...

There's been a real lack of decent coverage of industrial issues by the media recently, which seems bizarre given the rate at which people are being laid off. In many cases, this is simply because employers are in financial trouble - but there's always the possibility that some employers are using the financial times to roll back wages and conditions. Critical journalism would be very nice right about now.