A woman who was disqualified from a job with Air New Zealand because of her traditional Maori tattoo has received high-level backing from MPs who feel the company's policies are outdated and hypocritical.
Prime Minister John Key expressed surprise at the airline's refusal to hire Maori woman Claire Nathan because the ta moko on her forearm breached the company's policy of not allowing visible tattoos.
Mr Key, who is also Minister for Tourism, disagreed with the airline's argument that it could put off tourists.
"It would be a problem if it did because a lot of the Maori events they go to, there's lots of tattoos," he said
Air New Zealand stood by its policy yesterday, saying it was primarily a tourist business and many cultures would consider tattoos frightening or intimidating.
But a spokeswoman said the company was reviewing its standards, including the issue of visible tattoos.
The spokeswoman said the company proudly celebrated New Zealand culture in its branding.
But she said its tattoo policy for staff was the same as other major airlines including Emirates, Etihad, British Airways and Delta.
Most MPs said yesterday the policy was out of tune with modern New Zealand.
At least 10 politicians from most parties wore prominent tattoos, and a few more admitted to having more discreet body art.
National Party MP Tau Henare had four tattoos, two of which would breach the airline's policy.
He said Air New Zealand was displaying a double standard.
"If somebody's got a koru on their arm, is that going to scare the tourists? I think it's a bit rich that Air NZ ... are outlawing on their staff something that's on the tail of the plane."
He felt there should be some leniency for traditional tattoos.
Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples said he could understand that a full-face moko could be intimidating, but a blanket ban on ta moko was "not right".
Green MP Julie-Ann Genter had a tattoo of a bamboo tree on the back of her lower leg. She said it symbolised traits which she admired - flexibility and strength.
She said Air New Zealand's rules were "a bit outdated".
Tattooed MPs include:
Maori: Pita Sharples, Te Ururoa Flavell
National: Tau Henare, Mike Sabin
Mana: Hone Harawira
Labour: Su'a William Sio, Rino Tirakatene, Nanaia Mahuta
Greens: Holly Walker, Julie-Ann Genter.