Chinese flight attendants filled new Auckland-based positions at Air New Zealand barely a month before the national carrier announced big lay-offs of Kiwi staff.
The jobs were first advertised in Shanghai in December. Documents leaked to the Herald on Sunday show the airline sought applications for 16 cabin crew to be based in Auckland for nine months.
While the 175 redundancies announced on Friday won't affect cabin crew, flight attendants' union FARSA says skilled Kiwis who want to work deserve a chance to rejoin the airline.
FARSA general secretary Pete Bentley questioned why the positions weren't made available to New Zealanders - especially former Air NZ employees made redundant after a round of cutbacks when the global recession hit.
Crew members made redundant in 2009 had consistently re-applied for Air New Zealand group cabin crew vacancies and had been turned down, he said.
New Zealand-based crew on temporary contracts could also have been interested in those positions.
Another leaked email outlined more of FARSA's concerns about the Shanghai-sourced staff.
"We can think of no reason for this other than the airline perhaps having some sort of hidden policy to reject all crew applicants whom they have previously made redundant despite their qualifications," FARSA members were told.
Air New Zealand said it was recruiting for 32 new full-time roles for New Zealand-based cabin crew.
Only 11 Chinese took up the jobs offered in Shanghai. They were outnumbered by Kiwi employees seconded overseas, the airline said.
Spokesman Mark Street said the airline had 26 Auckland-based domestic, Tasman Pacific and long-haul crew on temporary secondment in London.
The jobs for the Shanghai staff paid $570 a week, the same as most other entry-level cabin crew jobs the airline offered.