A Whangārei man who was refused a job at Air New Zealand because of his Tā Moko is pleased the company has done a U-turn on its uniform policy to allow tattoos that are not offensive.

In February Sydney Heremaia, 36, applied for a customer service agent role with the national carrier at Whangārei Airport.

While applying online he disclosed he had a Tā Moko on his left shoulder, and tatau, a Samoan form of skin art, on his right forearm. Both are not visible while wearing a corporate shirt. Heremaia said he was then asked to provide photos and to explain the cultural significance of them, which he did.

An Air NZ representative then sent him an email saying he was being turned down for the job because "the body art you have declared does not comply with our uniform standards for roles wearing the koru uniform".


It was suggested he could apply for other roles that did not require the koru uniform. Heremaia was going to take the issue to the Human Rights Commission, believing the uniform policy may breach articles within the United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples.

The Human Rights Commission said at the time: "A person of Māori descent may not be denied employment, entry to premises, or declined service because they wear moko visibly". The commission's advice to employers was to use common sense in identifying moko, rather than seeking to question the authenticity of the moko or the ethnicity of the person with the moko.

But yesterday Air NZ announced it had changed its uniform policy that will see all employees, including uniformed staff, ''able to proudly display their non-offensive tattoos at work.''

Heremaia said he was pleased the company had changed the policy, which he described as ironic, because the company proudly displayed the koru on its planes and corporate logo, but not his koru.

''I thought it was offensive when they emailed saying my ta moko does not comply with their uniform standards. The bizarre thing is though that my tā moko wouldn't have been visible with the corporate uniform. I've worked in the public service before and wore corporate suits so I'm aware of that issue.''

Heremaia said the customer service job at Whangārei Airport would have been ideal for him and he would reapply for it now that his tā moko are compliant with the airline's policy.

However, he felt it was not something that should have been an issue in the first place.
The national carrier had a long-standing policy of not permitting visible tattoos for staff wearing its "koru uniforms" and applicants must disclose if they have body art anywhere on their body so the airline can discuss it with them.

But From September 1 all new and existing Air NZ employees will be able to have tā moko and non-offensive tattoos visible when wearing their uniform or normal business attire.


Air NZ CEO Christopher Luxon said the airline is committed to building a diverse and inclusive workplace that truly reflects the makeup of Aotearoa.

"I'm extremely proud to be making this announcement. It reinforces our position at the forefront of the airline industry in embracing diversity and enabling employees to express individuality or cultural heritage," Luxton said.

He said the changes follow five months of extensive research with Air NZ customers and employees.

"We felt it was important that this change apply equally to all Air NZers. We want to liberate all our staff including uniform wearers such as cabin crew, pilots and airport customer service teams who will, for the first time, be able to have non-offensive tattoos visible when wearing their uniforms,'' Luxton said.

"In conversations we've had with customers and our own people domestically and overseas in the past five months, it's clear that there is growing acceptance of tattoos in New Zealand, particularly as a means of cultural and individual expression."

The company said applicants who have previously been turned down for a role at Air NZ due to visible tattoos are welcome to apply for future vacancies.