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As Air New Zealand workers' strike looms, union says staff are 'under-appreciated and under attack'

A planned strike among nearly 1000 Air New Zealand engineers and logistics workers that could put Kiwis' holiday travel plans in disarray is about more than just pay, the union representing the workers said today as it called a competing press release by airline management "misleading".

"No one wants to disrupt people's Christmas plans, but Air New Zealand has taken an unnecessarily aggressive approach," said E tū union's head of aviation, who goes by the single name Savage. "Aviation workers don't make these decisions without good cause.

"In aviation, there is a constant downward pressure on costs driven by airlines. The result is a race to the bottom on wages and conditions."

About 95 per cent of the union voted for the strike, which is scheduled to take place December 21. But both sides will go into mediation on Monday "and carry on bargaining in good faith", he said.

If an agreement isn't reached before December 21, Air New Zealand pointed out in a press release today, the strike will put "thousands of holiday plans at risk" on the busiest travel day of the year.

Nearly 42,000 customers have booked flights for that day and now face cancellations, the airline pointed out.

The average income of maintenance engineers, logistics and other staff to strike is $115,000 - more than double the average wage in New Zealand - and around 170 of them earn more than $150,000, Air New Zealand said. The union has rejected an offer for an immediate 2 per cent pay increase, followed by a 3 per cent increase next year.

But the union said today it is responding to cuts to their conditions amid record profits for the airline.

"This is not just about pay. It's about repeated proposals by the airline weeks out from Christmas to pay them less than colleagues who have already settled, and to cut into key conditions, including overtime rates," Savage said.

"This affects line and hangar engineers, but also store workers and aircraft cleaners, who are covered by the same document and who are struggling to get ahead. Our members feel under-appreciated and under attack.

"The ballot results show an overwhelming resolve to...defend themselves."

Air New Zealand has said it will contact customers booked to travel on 21 December closer to the travel date if the strike action goes ahead as planned. In the meantime, the company has asked customers not to call with questions, as no further information is available.

An Air New Zealand plane.