A former Immigration Minister of New Zealand, Tuariki John Delamere, has slammed the 76 percent state-owned Air New Zealand as a ‘flying sweatshop’ for paying its 30 Shanghai-based flight attendants a quarter of what its home-based crew was getting, and less than the legal minimum wage in New Zealand. Here’s the mile-high wage gap as revealed by the New Zealand Herald:
China-based flight attendants:
Annual base pay NZ$6240 (RMB 35,200)
Hourly rate (Herald calculation based on 40-hour week): NZ$3.25 (RMB18.33)
Daily allowance on long-haul flights: NZ$55 (RMB310)
New Zealand-based flight attendants:
Annual base pay NZ$24,000 (RMB135,382)
Hourly rate (Herald calculation based on 40-hour week): NZ$11.54 (RMB 65.11)
Daily allowance on long-haul flights: NZ$170 (RMB959)
Said one ex-crew member by the name of Crystal Zeng of her “miserable” working conditions:
“I remember feeling the pain when I see the others being able to go out to party while we don’t even have enough money for movies and McDonald’s.”
“Unlike the Kiwi crew who get cash allowances, what we get is tied to having meals at the hotel and a Chinese restaurant, and if we don’t eat at a specific time, we have to go without food. We felt like prisoners in the hotel.”
[The only time we felt free to go out was when] “kind people from the Kiwi crew ask us out and offer to pay for our drinks”.
Other Chinese staff have revealed “growing unhappiness about money issues” and “staff being disgusted at being treated like monkeys and being paid peanuts”.
Air New Zealand says it does not hire its Chinese staff directly, but were seconded by another Chinese company, FASCO, which sets salaries based on market relativity in China. Nevertheless, all Chinese crew members were given New Zealand work permits citing Air NZ as the employer. One air stewardess says they were all essentially duped:
“We were led to believe that we will be working for Air NZ, then after we are successful, they drop the bomb telling us we are to sign a contract with a Chinese company and will be employed under Chinese terms.”
The scandal is now being hotly debated in the highest echelons of the New Zealand government and this is what Prime Minister Helen Clark told reporters:
“I would imagine that Air New Zealand is paying the going rate in China. It has, I believe, a very low level of attrition of staff there which suggests that probably the rate is fair in comparison to others.
“If you are asking me would I expect a market rate in Shanghai to be the same as New Zealand’s, not I wouldn’t. No more than I would expect the London rate to be the same,” she told reporters.
“In the end, Air New Zealand has to make judgements about what constitutes the New Zealand experience on the planes but certainly it does source crews from elsewhere. Sometimes they will be paid more, as I would suggest is the case with London. Sometimes the market rate will be less, as is undoubtedly the case in Shanghai.”
NZ Herald: Revealed: Air New Zealand’s mile-high pay gap
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Photo by Thomas Cuelho