Air New Zealand engineers have scheduled a strike Dec. 21 that threatens to disrupt travel plans of nearly 42,000 customers on one of the airline’s busiest travel days, although further negotiations are planned in an effort to resolve the contract dispute.

The strike announcement on Dec. 6 followed a vote taken earlier this week by nearly 1,000 workers represented by the Aviation and Marine Engineers Association and the E tū union, which is a multi-industry labor group. The unions said 95% of those voting was in favor of strike action.

The New Zealand flag carrier said the unions have also advised the airline to expect further industrial action.

The unions said they have agreed to a mediation meeting with Air New Zealand Engineering management on Dec. 10. The unions said they will “carry on bargaining in good faith in the hopes of reaching a deal.” The airline also said it remains “committed to working closely with the engineers’ unions to reach a reasonable agreement and avoid strike action if at all possible.”

Air New Zealand said nearly 42,000 customers are booked to travel domestically and internationally on Dec. 21, and they “now face potential flight cancellations.” However, the airline’s regional turboprop operations will not be affected as their engineers are in a different work group.

The contract negotiations involved in the dispute cover line and base maintenance engineers, as well as aircraft logistics and related staff. The unions note this includes not just engineers, but store workers and aircraft cleaners.

The Auckland-based airline said the negotiations have only been underway with this group for six weeks, so “industrial action is entirely premature.”

According to an airline statement, the average annual wage for the affected workers is NZ$115,000 ($79,000), with 170 of them earning more than NZ$150,000. The carrier said these workers have had annual pay raises for the past 12 years and have “so far rejected recent proposals by the airline” that include an immediate 2% pay raise, followed by a 3% increase after 12 months, and a further pay review in mid-2021.

Air New Zealand also proposed standardizing overtime pay at 150% of the regular pay rate, compared to the current overtime rates that are a mixture of 150% and 200% of regular pay. Included in the offer was a NZ$6,400 one-off payment to compensate the change in overtime rates. Other features of the offer included an extra week of annual leave after five years’ service.

The unions noted the carrier has been making record profits and accused the airline of taking “an unnecessarily aggressive approach” to negotiations. “This is not just about pay,” the E tū union said. “It’s about repeated proposals by the airline weeks out from Christmas to pay [engineers] less than colleagues who have already settled, and to cut into key conditions, including overtime rates.”

Adrian Schofield, adrian.schofield@informa.com