Air New Zealand Lifts Staff Tattoo Ban Over Fears of Māori Discrimination

As of September 1, all new and existing staff will be allowed to have non-offensive tattoos visible when wearing their uniform.

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12 June 2019, 1:38am

Image via Pxhere (L) and Wikimedia (R)

Air New Zealand will lift its longstanding ban on staff having visible tattoos amid fears that the company policy discriminates against Māori employees. Uniform rules at the national airline heretofore restricted individuals with visible tattoos—including tā moko, the traditional indigenous Māori tattoos that are typically displayed on a person’s face or arms—from applying for roles such as flight attendant, the ABC reports.

Air New Zealand’s chief executive Christopher Luxon announced this week that the policy was being dropped. As of September 1, all new and existing Air New Zealand staff will be able to have tā moko and non-offensive tattoos visible when wearing their uniform.

"I'm extremely proud to be making this announcement. It reinforces our position at the forefront of the airline industry in embracing diversity and enabling employees to express individuality or cultural heritage," Christopher told the New Zealand Herald. ''We want to liberate all our staff, including uniform wearers such as cabin crew, pilots, and airport customer service teams, who will, for the first time, be able to have non-offensive tattoos visible when wearing their uniforms.''

The policy change comes after mounting pressure and criticism from rights advocates, who labelled the tattoo ban as discriminatory. Many critics also pointed out that Air New Zealand draws on and incorporates elements of Māori culture in its business, including the language in its marketing campaigns and using a stylised, fern-shaped Māori motif known as a "koru" in its logo.

When it comes to determining what qualifies as appropriate or inappropriate tattoos, an Air New Zealand spokeswoman said that they would be treated like speech. "In the same way you shouldn't swear, make hateful comments, lewd jokes, or use violent language in the workplace for example, the same goes for tattoos,” she said. "Where the situation is not clear, we will have a Tattoo Review Panel to assist employees and managers to determine whether a tattoo is aligned with our policy.” Those with a tattoo that is deemed offensive or inappropriate and which cannot be covered by work attire will not be eligible to work at the airline.

Last week, Air New Zealand won the inaugural diversity and inclusion award from the International Air Transport Association—an award that “internationally recognises Air New Zealand as leading the way for diversity and inclusion in the aviation industry, by implementing positive and tangible change in the diversity and inclusion space as part of its diversity agenda.”

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