Being Held Hostage — Is This the Christmas Spirit?

After our recent discussion about the Air NZ strikes, we received a flood of letters from readers.

Some folks agreed with our stance that the unionised workers shouldn’t have taken customers hostage…

Others defended the workers, citing different ways that Air NZ isn’t doing right by them…and that I ought to get off my soapbox.

Well…you’re right. I only have a limited view of what’s been going on over at Air NZ. And much of what I think I know could have been planted by Air NZ’s PR team. Sure, that could certainly be true.

So, to remedy that as best as I can…and give readers a better view of the situation, today we’ll relay what your fellow readers sent in. And you be the judge!

Dear Taylor,

I read your comments with interest on this subject and as I have a more closer understanding of the situation, I don’t agree with a lot of your comments.

Firstly the unions involved have been talking to Air NZ management for some months without any meaning full feedback in fact they have been very reluctant to even engage , so as a last resort to get them around the table the strike notice was issued, now because it was going to affect a large number of people, guess what Air NZ suddenly agree to meet and include a mediator funny that once a bit of pressure is applied. There was absolutely no need for this to even happen if Air NZ had adopted a policy of meaningful dialogue and discussions in the manner of arriving at a resolution.

Also, AIRNZ had negotiated with other groups within the company and had made significantly better offers than what they offered the engineers. Their release of details on the salaries of engineers was cynical to say the least, stating these people earned significantly more than the average kiwi worker, these guys do a 5-year training programme and have to pass numerous exams, so they are quite skilful people maybe they are entitled to the money they get paid. The figure of $115,000 quoted is not a base salary for an engineer, this would also include, shift allowances, working on public holidays i.e. Good Friday, Christmas day etc plus would need to include some overtime to boost it to this level so again not quite right but used as a tactic by Air NZ to try and get sympathy from the public “look how much we pay these people and now they want more.”

I am not a unionist by any stretch of the imagination and as long as their approach is one of fairness with an underlying philosophy of negotiating to meet a fair outcome, maybe they have place within NZ’s work and employment environment.

—PG

Well said, PG. I appreciate that you’ve brought to light some of the background to the situation that might not be making it onto the front page of the newspapers.

At the same time, I never questioned the issue of what these folks were being paid. I believe you that they probably deserve more.

My question is whether or not the unions should have targeted average Kiwis in their negotiations with Air NZ? I reckon there are better, more ethical ways to negotiate without pulling in innocent bystanders, even when striking.

Your comment is an over simplification and a reading of face value news. You offer no insight, deep thinking or insight neither do you dig deep to understand the issues from either side. No one likes to strike, it is disruptive and unpopular. Please try harder.

—SM

Insights? Deep thinking? Unbiased opinions? I thought that’s what we had the NZ Herald for?

The unions are not negotiating with the public, they are negotiating with Air NZ, and it is Air NZ that is spreading mis-information. Corporate greed is everywhere, and it is time everyone played fair.

—PF

Is keeping Kiwis from their families on Christmas playing fair?

Most of the time big corporates like Air NZ hold all the power and use it to pay workers as little as legally possible in order to maximise profits for shareholders and directors who hold shares; that’s how the system works; it’s dog eat dog, or more accurately management and shareholders eat employees.

Consequently, the system motivates workers taking every opportunity to use what little leverage power they have, e.g. withholding their labour at times calculated to inconvenience the paying customers, to twist their employers’ arms in order to bargain for fairer pay and working conditions.

Employers create the system of rewards for work, so we shouldn’t blame the workers for struggling for fair play in the only way available to them in our system.’

—PS

Fair enough. And you’d be especially right during a period of low unemployment, like we’re experiencing today.

Theoretically, this is the time for employees to use their relatively higher negotiating power to improve their benefits. Any economist would agree…

But as a customer, should I be considered leverage? Am I really fair game under the rules of engagement?

Should your pharmacist withhold your prescriptions to get a pay raise from their boss?

Should the day care workers lock your kids up until management gives them an extra week of holiday leave?

Should your mechanic hide your car keys as leverage to negotiate a higher pay per hour?

Sure, it’d be an effective way to twist management’s arm…and get the benefit you may or may not deserve, but is it fair to me, the customer? I just want my medicine, my kids or my car back…and I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Is that fair? Did I truly deserve it?

I am not employed by Air NZ but I know that to work in engineering, they have to work extra hours. [If they don’t, there wouldn’t be any] reasonable qualified people to keep the planes going. Their pay including overtime might sound good but next to Australia, it’s poor.

They have well-paid executives and low-paid workers.

—MB

Well, you’ve pointed out two important issues, MB. For one, there’s a big wage gap between the fat-cat executives and workers. And secondly, the engineering department is understaffed and overworked.

The first issue is too big to discuss today (But I’ll try to dig into it another day).

The second issue of the understaffed engineering department is a different beast. If hourly employees are regularly demanded to work overtime, that means there’s a staffing issue…and either management refuses to hire more engineers…or there’s simply not enough engineers to fill the shifts.

It would be in the best interest of the company to hire more workers, as overtime pay costs them more than regular pay. It leads me to think the issue is that there’s not enough qualified people out there… in which case they could offer higher pay to attract more recruits…or they could downsize their business to fit the staff size. Either one might be painful…

I’d be interested to hear what the unions asked Air NZ to do about that…

If you know, pass it along! letters@moneymorning.co.nz

And thank you to everyone who has written in. I sincerely appreciate your insight and thoughtful discussion.

Even you, SM.

Best,

Taylor Kee
Editor, Money Morning New Zealand


Taylor Kee is the lead Editor at Money Morning NZ. With a background in the financial publishing industry, Taylor knows how simple, yet difficult investing can be. He has worked with a range of assets classes, and with some of the world’s most thought-provoking financial writers, including Bill Bonner, Dan Denning, Doug Casey, and more. But he’s found his niche in macroeconomics and the excitement of technology investments. And Taylor is looking forward to the opportunity to share his thoughts on where New Zealand’s economy is going next and the opportunities it presents. Taylor shares these ideas with Money Morning NZ readers each day.


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