Senior cabin crew member accuses Air NZ of using pandemic as front for 'long-desired' job cuts

One senior Air New Zealand cabin crew member says some of their colleagues have been hospitalised during recent redundancy negotiations.

The airline is trying to shed more cabin crew, but may have a legal battle on its hands.

Almost 1000 Air New Zealand cabin crew have been let go, with 385 going soon - causing deep frictions internally.

"[The airline] is using the pandemic to [its] advantage and it's now a front for a long-desired cull," a senior cabin crew member told Newshub on the condition of anonymity.

"Air New Zealand has made no secret of the fact they'd rather pay cabin crew less," says Etū union head of aviation Savage. 

This latest dispute is over the airline's attempt to make senior, experienced cabin crew redundant, who are generally higher paid.

Long-haul cabin crew who have been with the airline since 2013 have a special contract, meaning they should be the last to go in any restructuring.

With COVID-19 stopping most long-haul flights, long-haul cabin crew were moved to mid-haul and put on a new contract.

The airline is now trying to let some of them go, arguing their special contract didn't carry over.

On Friday, the Employment Relations Authority ruled against Air New Zealand, saying the special contract is still valid.

"We were disappointed the company chose to challenge this," says Savage. "We felt that they signed up to an agreement seven years ago and they should stick to that agreement."

The senior cabin crew member says disappointed is an understatement. 

They say staff are asking for extra counselling because they're so distraught, and some have been hospitalised, potentially with serious health issues. 

"For some of the crew it's the end of their entire career and there's very little chance they'll be able to come back and fly again," says Savage.

Air New Zealand wouldn't be interviewed but said it's raised "discussion points" with the Employment Authority and is waiting to hear back. 

The airline wouldn't rule out an appeal.

There could be an agonising legal dispute coming for senior cabin crew who are hoping to stay in the air.