The new age of industrial relations at Air New Zealand formed a fascinating case study at the Future of Work conference.

The company’s HR chief Phil Doak, and union leader Calvin Ellis, jointly presented what is really the Present of Work, but new to many in their audience. 

A “High Performance Engagement Charter” has limited industrial upheaval at the airline and is based on the management sharing information with delegates and union members, and with a new process for addressing concerns, with multiple options for mediation.

Ellis told the conference it was the best industrial culture in his 20 years of organising.  “A lot of people say: ‘Is this the unions selling out?’ but we still have our traditional rights to fall back on if we need to and we can still take them to court if we want to.

“But we all know change is coming – Is it not better if the workers have some call of that change?”

The good environment now meant union members got information “from the highest level, we are helping the company grow, people are engaged and empowered and captured. They want to be part of it.”

Union members were competing to get on the joint work teams. “In some areas we are asking people to give us their CV and bios to get on”.

Doak said union delegates were now funded into the same leadership courses as the airline’s ‘frontline leaders’.

There was a revealing response to a question from First Union’s Robert Reid on why Air New Zealand had gone this way when under past chief executive Ralph Norris there was a view “it was better to have a business with a union”.

Doak said current CEO Christopher Luxon had asked when he took over: “Phil, I want an agreement with the union.  I’m sick of the Punch and Judy Show”.


Ellis added: “I was a delegate under [Rob] Fyfe. He came in and did a lot of things to us. It came to the point that from the union perspective we were just grinding eachother into the complete dust and I think Chris recognised that and that the union leadership were not going to go away.”