More Air NZ engineering jobs at risk

By Jarrod Booker, Stuart Dye

Christchurch-based Air NZ engineering staff who blocked a proposal that would save about 300 jobs probably thought their own positions were secure when they may not be, the airline says.

The majority of the Christchurch staff represented by the Aviation and Marine Engineering Association (AMEA) voted against the proposal put up by unions after Air NZ said it would shift its wide-body aircraft heavy maintenance offshore.

The proposal, backed by Air New Zealand management, would mean an overhaul in pay and working conditions for engineering staff but retaining 300 jobs, mostly in Auckland.

It was defeated with just over 100 Christchurch AMEA members voting against.

Air NZ is now proceeding with its plan to move the maintenance work overseas and unions are scrambling to try to save the deal.

The Christchurch AMEA members who voted "no" were yesterday criticised by colleagues and their decision called "short-sighted" by Air New Zealand chief executive Rob Fyfe.

George Ryde, AMEA national secretary, said under the proposed six days on three days off pattern, they would get only five full weekends off annually, which was a "serious lifestyle issue".

About a third of them would also suffer a drop in earnings.

Mr Ryde agreed it was possible that union members mistakenly thought their jobs were safe, but the possible consequences and future company action had been explained.

"Whether they believed us or whether they thought the company was bluffing I cannot say."

Mr Ryde will meet members again tomorrow but refused to speculate on whether their minds could be changed.

Air New Zealand's Mr Fyfe told Newstalk ZB the Christchurch staff probably felt their futures were secure but that was not the case, unless changes were made to working conditions.

He said it was unfortunate some union members could not accept the need for change. Mr Fyfe said it was costing Air NZ $100,000 every week it delayed making a decision on its aircraft maintenance.

One Auckland-based Air New Zealand engineer, Shaun Thompson, told Newstalk ZB he felt his Christchurch colleagues had let him down.

Mr Thompson, an engineer who co-wrote the union proposal, said it would have been nice to have everyone on board.

But another Auckland engineer told the Herald he did not feel malice toward workers who voted no in Christchurch.

He said Air NZ was seen by many as a "sinking ship", so this was now an opportunity to take a redundancy payout and get out before conditions got even worse.

He said the airline had been hoping that fewer than 50 people would apply for voluntary redundancy, but more than 170 had asked to take a payout and leave the company.

Many engineering staff had guarantees of new jobs in New Zealand and overseas.

The Air New Zealand-Pratt & Whitney owned Christchurch Engine Centre, which overhauls jet engines from mostly overseas aircraft, has been advertising for staff recently, but the management would not comment when contacted yesterday.

- Additional reporting Stuart Dye

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