Air New Zealand engineers have outlined plans to strike on the airline's busiest travel day of the year, putting Christmas travel plans at risk for tens of thousands of travellers.
The unions (The Aviation and Marine Engineers Association and E tū) representing Air New Zealand's aircraft maintenance engineers, aircraft logistics and related staff served a notice of the planned action only four days before Christmas.
The strike action is set to involve almost 1000 staff members on December 21, and could affect the travel plans of 42,000 customers booked to travel on that day.
The strike action involves a pay dispute, in regard to annual increases in staff pay.
A statement from Air New Zealand said that while the group of engineers has received pay increases annually for the past 12 years, it has so far rejected recent proposals by the airline including an immediate two per cent pay increase followed by a further three per cent increase after 12 months, with a further pay review in mid-2021.
Air New Zealand said the average income of the maintenance engineers, logistics and other staff to strike is $115,000 - and around 170 of them earn more than $150,000.
In addition to the pay concerns, staff are also asking for an extra week of annual leave for employees with five years' service (taking shift workers to six weeks a year), free reserved car parking spaces within 500 metres of their workplace, and the right to renegotiate terms just prior to the busy Christmas season again next year.
Air New Zealand General Manager Aircraft Maintenance Viv de Beus described the proposed strike action as extremely disappointing.
"It would be devastating to see the holiday plans of more than 40,000 hardworking Kiwis and international visitors ruined," de Beus said.
"We have only been in negotiations with this group for six weeks so industrial action is entirely premature. We remain committed to working closely with the engineers' unions to reach a reasonable agreement and avoid strike action if at all possible."
This is the latest in a wave of industrial action to sweep over the nation over course of the last year. Doctors, teachers, nurses, bus drivers, ambulance drivers and truck drivers are among the many examples of staff taking strike action this year.
The E Tu Union criticised the statement from Air New Zealand this morning for distributing "misleading information".
Savage, the aviation spokesman for E tū, said engineers and logistics workers had voted to issue strike notices in responses to Air New Zealand's demands for cuts to their conditions.
"This is not just about pay. It's about repeated proposals by the airline weeks out from Christmas to pay them less than colleagues who have already settled and to cut into key conditions, including overtime rates.
"This affects line and hangar engineers, but also store workers and aircraft cleaners, who are covered by the same document and who are struggling to get ahead," he said.
"Our members feel under-appreciated and under attack. The ballot results show an overwhelming resolve to take action to defend themselves."
He also said Air New Zealand had taken an "unnecessarily aggressive approach" to the issue.
He said no one wanted to disrupt people's Christmas plans.
He said unions had agreed to mediation talks on Monday to try and resolve the dispute and avert the strike action.
Earlier this month, Auckland Airport revealed its busiest days over the holiday period.
Saturday, December 22, and Sunday, January 6, top the list, with more than 43,000 travellers expected through the international terminal on each of the two peak travel days.
On eight other days — December 20, 21, 23 and 26, and January 3, 4, 5, and 13 more than 40,000 travellers are expected through the same terminal.
On a regular day 34,000 to 35,000 people pass through the international terminal, among a sharp rise in passenger numbers that three years ago prompted the airport to kick off a 30-year development plan to cater for soaring growth.
As well as those bound for or returning from the skies, thousands more will also arrive at our national gateway to wave goodbye or say hello.
Around 90,000 vehicles come into the airport precinct every day, 15 per cent more than the peak in 2016 that led to gridlock on airport roads.