Air New Zealand's tattoo policy 'doesn't make sense' - rejected application

A Whangārei student is asking Air New Zealand to "walk the talk" after it turned him down for a job because of his tattoos.

Sydney Heremaia recently applied for a part-time job in a customer service role at Whangārei Airport. As part of the application, the 36-year-admitted he had tā moko on his left shoulder and a tatau on his right forearm.

He sent the airline photos to show they wouldn't be visible while wearing the uniform, but Air NZ wrote back to say "the body art you have declared does not comply" with its standards.

He went to the airport to see what the staff there wear, and confirmed his tattoos wouldn't be visible. He told Newshub he has "no idea" why Air NZ would cite the tattoos in rejecting his application.

"That's why I'm asking these questions. I've put them to Air New Zealand and they have yet to respond. All the people that have commented on social media, all my friends and family, have the same questions - it just doesn't add up and it doesn't make sense."

He said both tattoos reflect his cultural heritage, and one member of his whanau who works for the police in Wellington wears his with pride.

"He's yet to receive a complaint about offence taken by a member of the public."

Heremaia supplied Newshub with the exact photos he sent Air NZ (below).

Sydney Heremaia/supplied
Two of the photos Sydney Heremaia said he sent to Air NZ. Photo credit: Sydney Heremaia/supplied

Air New Zealand has been approached for comment. A spokesperson told NZME its policy on visible tattoos was "well-known", but wouldn't comment on Heremaia's tattoos, which wouldn't be visible under the long-sleeved shirt customer service staff wear.

Air NZ planes bear a Māori-inspired koru design. The clothes customer service staff wear are even called the 'Koru Uniform'.

Heremaia - who said he wasn't aware of previous news coverage of Air NZ's controversial tattoo policy - said no one would have a problem, even if it was on show.

"I may have more of an understanding if I did have perhaps a facial tā moko... but it still wouldn't feel okay with me. This could be an opportunity for Air New Zealand to invite their staff to bring all of who they are to their role, and this includes their cultural identity."

He has laid a complaint with the Human Rights Commission.

"If Air New Zealand is truly an organisation that values diversity and inclusion, this is what it looks like in practice. I think this would be a great chance for Air New Zealand to take the opportunity to walk their talk."

Heremaia, who previously worked for the Ministry of Social Development, is looking for other work in the meantime - but is giving Air NZ the chance to change its mind.

"That's the right thing to do - to give them a chance to come back with a response."

In a statement to Newshub, Air NZ said it began a review of its uniform guidelines late last year and expects to make an announcement next month.

However, they said while they may become more flexible around uniform, they won’t be accepting people who don’t meet the basic requirements for the job.

“All job applicants need to meet the necessary thresholds of having the right attributes, including skills and attitude, to wear the Air New Zealand uniform with pride,” a spokesperson said.