Scott Hammond / Stuff
Two C-130 Hercules are currently grounded at RNZAF Woodbourne due to a strike by Airbus engineers.
Airbus aeronautical engineers at RNZAF Woodbourne have to use food banks and sell their belongings just to make ends meet, a union worker has said.
The union is in a long-running pay dispute in its ninth week.
The engineer, who wished to remain anonymous, said there were about 100 unionized workers at the air base who were striking for wage demands as the cost of living crisis continued to hit homes and pockets.
“We have just renewed another strike notice, so we will continue. It’s basically wages to keep pace with the CPI (consumer price index) and inflation, because otherwise we’ll all set back.
“A lot of our guys, like everyone else, are starting to hurt. We have a number of people, especially the younger ones who are reasonably new to mortgages, and with interest rates and the price of everything skyrocketing, they are really starting to suffer now.
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“A number of them have already gone out and found themselves second jobs, and have gotten to the point where they have to sell things. It is quite serious for some of our people.
“We’ve set up a food bank where we donate food and bits and pieces so we can help some of our guys who are really struggling, and times are so tough because it’s been dragging on for so long now,” says the worker.
Airbus engineers based at RNZAF Woodbourne maintain air force aircraft, including a fleet of C-130 Hercules which are often used to ferry relief supplies to areas of the world affected by disaster or a conflict.
Another worker said the strike resulted in two of the C-130 Hercules being grounded. The entire RNZAF C-130 Hercules fleet consists of just five aircraft, meaning only 60% are operationally ready.
“We have been on strike since mid-July. It didn’t include overtime, no work off base, and a few other things.
“After the company’s immobility for several weeks, we have again intensified the action with the refusal to work at height, on raised platforms or in confined spaces (such as) fuel tanks.
“This means that unless the problem is solved, we have two planes in our hangar that will not go away,” he said.
Meanwhile, E tū Union Aviation organizer Damon Rongotaua, who is leading the talks, said wage talks must be resolved as soon as possible, both for the workers and to allow New Zealand to play its role on the world stage.
“The biggest contract for our engineers at Airbus is the RNZAF, so our ability to help in the Pacific with aid and search and rescue is significantly reduced.
“Our RNZAF Woodbourne members are the guys making sure these planes can fly to the South Pacific to help and drop off much-needed supplies after the hurricane, or search for lost boats etc. in our territorial waters.
“I know very well that if there was another natural disaster or an emergency somewhere, it is more than likely that the same situation will happen again where they will have to borrow C-130 Hercules from Australia. It’s happened before,” Rongotaua said.
In 2019, all of the RNZAF’s C-130 Hercules were temporarily taken out of service due to mechanical failures, leaving Australia to bear the immediate burden of disaster relief from New Zealand, at the following a deadly earthquake in Papua New Guinea.
At the time, then Defense Minister Ron Mark said the situation was “embarrassing” and did not reflect the skills and professionalism of the NZDF.