AIR New Zealand is defending its rejection of a job applicant because she has a Maori tattoo, saying it could frighten or intimidate some travellers.
Claire Nathan had a job interview with the airline last month, which was terminated as soon as she declared the traditional Maori ta moko tattoo on her lower arm depicting her heritage and children.
“I thought that they would be quite proud to have someone with a ta moko working and representing New Zealand. [But it’s] not the case. [It] was the total opposite,” Ms Nathan told Maori TV’s Native Affairs program.
She was told tattoos that couldn’t be covered up by the airline’s uniform were unacceptable.
Ms Nathan believes it’s a double standard, because the airline has used tattooed All Blacks and singer Gin Wigmore in its advertising, while koru – a stylised NZ fern – are used in its logo.
In a statement, Air New Zealand said its passengers come from a range of cultures, and many of those cultures consider tattoos to be frightening or intimidating.
“Naturally we want all of our customers to feel comfortable and happy when travelling on our services 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,” Air New Zealand said.
The airline pointed out that Emirates, Etihad, British Airways and Delta do not permit visible tattoos.
However, Air New Zealand says a newly established customer experience team is reviewing all of the airline’s standards, systems and processes, including grooming standards and the issue of visible tattoos.
Prime Minister John Key, who is also Tourism Minister, was surprised by Air New Zealand’s position.
“I don’t know why they chose to do that, but tattoos are pretty common these days.”
Labour leader David Shearer says he thought Ms Nathan’s tattoo was “actually rather lovely” and most visitors would agree.
National MP Tau Henare is outraged by the airline’s stance.
“It’s a beautiful piece of art that she has on her forearm and I don’t think any tourist would go scurrying for shelter if they saw her moko.”
The Human Rights Commission says a person of Maori descent must not be denied employment, entry to premises, or declined service because they wear moko visibly.