Strikes have their place in industrial relations but sometimes they can be cruel to the innocent. The strike threatened by Air New Zealand staff for December 21, the Friday before Christmas, is in the cruel category. It is probably the airline's busiest day of the year, when people are flying from far and near to join families for Christmas.

They will have made their plans and bookings long ago and yesterday all those plans were thrown into doubt. The strike might not go ahead if the airline agrees to whatever the unions are demanding with this gun to its head. But the risk will be too high for many who will be trying to make alternative arrangements this weekend.

The airline was yesterday looking at what it could do to put on more flights before and after the scheduled one-day strike but to cause inconvenience on this scale is reprehensible.

Strikes are legal when the term of an agreement has expired and it is being renegotiated. It is staggering that Air NZ would agree to contracts that expired around this time of year. The E Tu union representing aircraft engineers and cleaners and store workers is aggrieved at pay offers it says are less than agreed with colleagues who have already settled, and amount to a cut to E Tu members' conditions.

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The two sides are in mediation on Monday to try to avert the strike. But many booked travellers will have an anxious weekend wondering if their Christmas reunions with loved ones are ruined.