Air NZ criticised as 'racially biased' for declining job because of applicant's tā moko

An Auckland councillor has called out Air New Zealand for cashing-in on Māori culture with its koru designs, then being "racially biased" when it came to declining a Whangārei man a job because of his tā moko.

Sydney Heremaia, 36, said he was made to feel like "s... for being Māori" after being declined a job for having a tā moko.

When applying for a job with Air New Zealand in a customer service role at Whangārei Airport, Mr Heremaia told the NZ Herald he firstly had to disclose his tā moko on his left shoulder, and tatau, a Samoan form of skin art, on his right forearm.

He then had to send through photos, to which an Air New Zealand representative sent him an email, viewed by the NZ Herald, that said he was being turned down for the job because "the body art you have declared does not comply with our Uniform Standards for roles
wearing the Koru Uniform".

Air New Zealand spokeswoman Anna Cross told 1 NEWS some international customers found body art offensive, but the company had been working on changing its guidelines.

However, Manukau Ward councillor Efeso Collins was among many expressing outrage for Mr Heremaia on Twitter today.

Mr Collins lashed out calling the company "racially biased" and recommended the koru design be removed from planes given the reason for the application's dismissal.

"The koru rides on every AirNZ aircraft so visible to the world. It is unforgivable that the airline would then deny that right to its staff," he told 1 NEWS. "It is extremely hypocritical."

"In my view it is clearly monetising Māori culture for its own purposes and failing to embrace the culture in its appointment of staff."

The koru was a symbol of new life and growth, but Mr Collins said it was a symbol the company clearly had no understanding of.

"I am deeply dismayed by this case. It is reprehensible that in this modern age, a person could be declined a job for having a tā moko and tatau."

Mr Collins said it was "an archaic and colonial policy that needs to be changed forthwith". He had contacted Air New Zealand's diversity manager with his concerns, he said.

"Not being offered the job because it doesn’t fit certain visible standards is diabolical. The airline needs reminding that it is now 2019, not 1719.

"I hope he (Mr Heremaia) brings a case to the Human Rights Commission."

Mr Collins expected Air New Zealand to apologise and reconsider Mr Heremaia's appointment, review its HR policies, for staff to undertake cultural competency training, and to seek to appoint people of diverse backgrounds in senior management.

However, Mr Collins was not the only one outraged by the case.

Another person tweeted that the policy was "ridiculous and embarrassing" considering so many other professions allowed tā moko.

"There are judges, politicians, senior public servants, police, teachers, nurses, firefighters, doctors, social workers with tā moko. This is just ridiculous and embarrassing," the tweet says.

Another user called the case "arrogant" and "racist", and many others called for a policy review.

"If our own airline cannot understand tikanga Māori re tā moko - then they have become arrogant and disconnected from us - I call for you to break up the monopoly of AirNZ or they seriously adjust their arrogance," another person tweeted.

An Air New Zealand spokeswoman Anna Cross said the company was reviewing its guidelines for uniformed staff displaying body art and expects to make "a positive announcement" in the coming weeks.

"As a modern and progressive business we recognise the need to allow uniformed staff the ability to express their identity," Ms Cross said.

"We also recognise that many of our international customers, especially out of some of the Asian countries, find body art offensive or associate it with criminal behaviour."

The company had spent considerable time since late last year talking to customers, cultural advisers and staff about potential changes to our guidelines for uniformed staff displaying body art, including cultural tattoos, Ms Cross said.

Air New Zealand expects to make an announcement on the guidelines by the end of April.

"What will not be changing are our basic requirements of all job applicants to meet the necessary thresholds of having the right attributes, including skills and attitude, to wear the Air New Zealand uniform with pride," Ms Cross said.