Industry spotlight: Aviation

Delegate, Richard Chandler (standing second from right) with the Jetconnect crew arriving in New York after their first direct flight

E tū aviation is one of the most diverse membership groups in the union, with members working as cabin crew, baggage handlers, in cargo, aviation security, engineering, cleaning, and more. Each issue, we’ll profile a different industry to highlight the many sectors and roles you work in.

Cabin crew’s new shifts to the city that never sleeps

Qantas’ latest direct flight to the Big Apple is now one of the longest long haul shifts but cabin crew members have welcomed the new route even though they’re logging more air time.

On 14 June, the crew celebrated the inaugural flight, which takes up to 17 hours each way.

To ensure members get enough rest between their shifts, they voted for a variation that increased scheduled rest time from 24 hours to 40 hours, in order to give them two local nights in New York.

E tū Jetconnect delegate, Richard Chandler, says the direct New York City route is running on a trial basis until next June, provided that the crew do not find the shifts too tiring.

“Hopefully it all goes well, and we’re able to get all the rest we need once we get to New York.”

Any changes to the shift patterns would need to come down to members making sure they are filling out fatigue reports or completing inflight surveys, he says.

“We can only action something if we know about it, and we need to have factual data.”

Richard says New York is a favourite destination for crew, with many new members getting to experience it for the first time having joined the company after pandemic restrictions lifted.

Top tourist picks include Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square, the World Trade Centre Memorial, and the Statue of Liberty. But after having worked as cabin crew for 15 years, the onboard manager says his new favourite is Little Island – a jungle-like park in the middle of the harbour.

“You’ve got these concrete flutes that are basically holding up a whole park, trees, and everything. It’s all elevated and you get to see the skyline looking back towards the city but also over to New Jersey as well. It’s amazing, it’s beautiful.”

Terry Wood has worked in Air New Zealand cargo for 34 years

“No two days are the same”

A day in the life of a cargo delegate

“I love cargo. You don’t know what you’re going to handle day to day. It could be a shipment of seafood, flowers, pets, horses – no two days are the same.

“In simple terms, we’ll make sure everything is loaded ok. We’ll accept the freight from a cargo forwarder like Mainfreight and ensure it’s safe to travel.

“We may require AVSEC to x-ray it to make sure there aren’t any dangerous goods. If there are, then we will make sure they’re airworthy.

“We’ve also got to make sure they’re stowed correctly in the airline unit, a pallet or container, before they’re safe to travel.

“We also oversee the loading of all the units. We’ll weigh each unit and make sure it equals what the ‘manifests’ are saying, and we’ll also balance the whole flight when finished.

“I’ve been a delegate at cargo for more than 21 years. At Air New Zealand cargo and even at the airport itself, I’ve seen so many changes. I started out as a courier owner/driver and joined Air New Zealand cargo in 1989 at the Mt Roskill hub.

“l did three years and then got moved to international cargo as a warehouseman, before moving to clerical – the paperwork side of things – after about four years, which is where I still am today.

“After about seven years with Air New Zealand, I started to get interested in the industrial and union side. Being a union member has 100% improved pay and conditions over the years.

“I sometimes get frustrated at the slow pace of change, but looking back over 34 years, we wouldn’t be in the position we are, if not for the union.

“My view is we need to have a healthy relationship with management, and then we get a lot more done. It doesn’t mean I’m in their back pocket or anything like that – we have robust discussions. We also meet them through reviews, delegate and union-company steering group meetings, and have one-on-one meetings with them too.

“Surprisingly, I don’t travel much at all. I just love the buzz of my job and the people I work with. We’ve got more than 200 staff at the airport, and it’s one big, fantastic family.

“I also encourage new staff in cargo to expand their horizons if they’re keen. We’ve had people end up as pilots, in load control… I tell them to ‘experience Air New Zealand’. I’ve had the opportunity, but I just love cargo.”

More than 1000 members win penal rate variation

For workers in the aviation industry, penal rates – extra pay for working things like weekends or overtime – are a big deal.

In February, more than 1000 front and back of house Air New Zealand workers got the news that they’ll now have the option to have their weekend penal rates either rolled into their base hourly rates, or to continue to receive them as traditional penal rates, set apart from their salary.

The ‘airports variation’, as it’s known, was a hot topic for members and also led to lots of non-union workers signing up to E tū, says Christchurch-based
delegate, Jess Duggan, who works as a loader.

“Lots of people these days are not used to having penal rates, so they prefer to have a set rate, and then there was a large group who were a bit worried about that.”

In the end, more than 70% of union members voted for the variation, which was a good result, Jess says. “Definitely some very happy people.”

Additionally, all members received pay increases as part of the variation. The bargaining period also boosted E tū power, with around 40 new members coming on board after they got interested in what was happening with the variation discussion.

Jess, who joined E tū when she began working in aviation – first at Queenstown Airport – more than six years ago, says it was the idea of having a voice at work that spurred her on to become a union member.

Now’s she a delegate, she enjoys advocating for others.

“A lot of young people aren’t really aware of what unions are. But coming into our workplace, they just get involved in it. There’s so much learning and history behind it.

“It’s good to show the newer ones what can happen when we stick together.”

Delegate Jess Duggan (centre) with other E tū members who work as loaders at Air New Zealand in Christchurch