Air NZ accused of tattoo ‘double standard’

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Air New Zealand has been accused of dashing the dreams of a young mother who wanted to become an air hostess, terminating her interview on the discovery of her ta moko.

Claire Nathan told Maori TV show Native Affairs that she applied for what she described as her ‘dream job’ in January, and her interview last month initially went well. However, when asked to fill out a form that required her to declare the traditional Maori tattoo on her lower arm, things took a turn for the worse.

“I thought that they would be quite proud to have someone with a ta moko working and representing New Zealand,” Nathan told Native Affairs. But this was not the case. Nathan was told that because she wouldn’t be able to cover the tattoo that they’d have to stop the interview.

“I was totally shocked and just couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” Nathan said. She called the response a ‘double standard’ since the airline uses the koru as its logo. It has also been noted that the heavily tattooed singer Gin Wigmore and numerous All Blacks with tattoos have appeared in advertisements for the airline.

Air New Zealand responded by saying that tattoos were often seen as ‘frightening’ or ‘intimidating’, the New Zealand Herald reported. “Naturally we want all of our customers to feel comfortable and happy … and this has been a key driver of our grooming standard which, like many other international airlines, prevents customer-facing staff from having visible tattoos.”

However, the airline’s stance on tattoos isn’t shared by everyone. At Telecom New Zealand, for instance, the only specific dress code policy governs the retail stores, since this is the only ‘customer-facing’ aspect of the business. “What the policy says it that body art or tattoos should be covered at all times…Tattoos on the face or hands are in breach,” Richard Llewellyn, of Telecom, said. However, in the case of tattoos that are adopted for cultural reasons, these would not be in breach of Telecom’s policy.

“My view is that the tattoo would be able to be covered and if it couldn’t there is a strong cultural reason for it,” Llewellyn said.

Similarly, New Zealand Post does not have a policy regarding tattoos as part of their recruitment process. "[However,] in some cases tattoos are covered up as appropriate according to the different roles people hold within the organisation," Jaimee Burke, New Zealand Post spokesperson, said.

According to the Human Rights Commission, a person of Māori descent cannot be denied employment because they visibly wear moko. "The Commission's general advice to ... employers is to use their common sense in identifying a moko, rather than seeking to question the authenticity of the moko or the ethnicity of the person with the moko," the commission's website states.




  • Carl on 30/08/2013 11:59:16 a.m.

    Wow! How closed minded are HR people these days? I disagree entirely with these comments.

    NZ is one of the most tattooed nations, and regardless of cultural significance, Tattoos are rarely offensive or intimidating to any New Zealander, and are they really offensive to overseas people? No. What about Moari cultural groups, which Im sure Air NZ have used to launch their planes etc. Offensive?

    I can only assume that she was a poor candidate, and the internal recruiter did not handle this well. The PR team should have closed it down, bought her a plan ticket and got her to sign something. Still, that would've been pragmatic.

    I fear that a employment brand that was appauling (15 years agao), then desirable "employer of choice", may run the risk of going backwards. Its always a fear of this with a Yank at the top. Air NZ still has the letigious people in HR or in Leadership positions (they seem proud of disempowered the unions and winning most employment disputes etc). Their corporate / social brand always come off worse than the actual issues

    For such an innovation recruitment / social media machine, this must be heart breaking to their brand. Its resilient though, and corporate HR continue to defend tough bloody minded leaders who are prepared to fight and not settle.

    Heres a novel approach from external comms: "This case has led us to reconsider our policies, and on reflection we were wrong. Tattooes are a way where people express their individuality - their personal brand or culture. This is exacty what Air NZ does with our corporate logo and our planes. We will not revist this recruitment decision, given how the events that have occured from our mistake. Air NZ was a diverse workforce, and we are convinced that our recruitment team and managers value diversity and EEO".

  • TagMan on 19/07/2013 7:19:17 a.m.

    In many (Asian particularly) countries you are deemed to have been a convicted criminal if you have a tattoo and I can understand passengers potential discomfort in this case.
    Life is all about consequences and you need to check them out before jumping in the deep.

  • Jack Smith on 1/07/2013 2:33:07 p.m.

    If you want to do things in this life you pay the price.
    An employer has the right to select staff to fit their requirements and their clients needs.

  • James on 1/07/2013 12:47:28 p.m.

    Ms Nathan has not been discriminated against because she is Maori, it is because of her choice to have a tattoo.
    Everyone is entitled to their own culture and religion but at the same time they should respect others who may not share the same persuasions.
    An employer should have the right to set standards for the overall image that their corporate clothing portreys - brand is an extremely valuable commodity and variations to the brand diminish its value..

  • LJH on 29/05/2013 11:42:52 a.m.

    It is interesting this has been made to be a race/cultural issue. Taking an extreme view would this same debate exist if the person in question had a visible swastika tattoo?

    Where do you draw the line about what type of tattoo is OK?

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