News story 10th Mar 2016

Engaging with the workforce better when you open up the books: AirNZ

The Australian Consortium for Research on Employment and Work (ACREW) hosted a successful breakfast seminar on Friday 19 February. The seminar was hosted in partnership with the Industrial Relations Society of Victoria (IRSV), as part of the Monash Business School industry-engagement program.

Ninety participants came from a range of industries, including commerce, government, consultancy and unions. They were joined by Monash students and alumni, as well as Business School staff and researchers.

ACREW breakfast seminar

Workforce published the following article for their subscribers

Phil Doak, General Manager – People – Employment Relations & Engagement for Air New Zealand says a big reason it has successfully bargained over 45 agreements in the past 3 years without industrial action is because it showed unions its finances.

Phil Doak, said relationships with unions changed for the better, in-part, because it now provides unions financial information which has helped to develop trust.

Now when AirNZ tells workers job losses are the last resort, and efficiencies need to be made, they know the company is telling the truth, he told a jointly-organised seminar by Monash Business School and Industrial Relations Society of Victoria….

Doak highlighted how adversarial AirNZ's relationships used to be with unions; a significant number of industrial law judgments in NZ involved Air NZ.

Doak said the new relationship was part of a strategy called 'High Performance Engagement', instituted when CEO Chris Luxon began his role three years ago. He changed managers' goals from being solely on "what" they produced, to having 50% on "how" those goals were produced.

Phile Doak ACREW breakfast seminar 

Luxon made union engagement 365 days of the year a priority, not just at bargaining time (as was previously the case). Managers had to engage and identify where mutual interests resided, before working on implementing those interests into company goals and policies. This really "flipped" things around, because unions used to "create noise" to get management attention, now they were involved in making decisions, so didn't need to make noise, Doak said. Luxon's philosophy is, if a union arrives at bargaining with pages full of issues, then the manager has not done their job right during the rest of the year. AirNZ refers to this as 'sustainable engagement'. Initially, there were some managers who weren't happy with CEO's new engagement policy. However, Luxon implored that you can't get good profits and great customer experience without a consistently "engaged culture".

Doak said when Luxon took over he organised a meeting with unions and told them their engagement needed to change, and challenged them to come back in six weeks time to tell management what they thought of them. Both parties had big problems and wanted change.

An independent facilitator was brought in to get parties to "collaborate on how to collaborate". From this they formed a charter that opened up avenues of information and a much better relationship. Doak said AirNZ has about 11,000 staff with union density of 75%.

Professor Greg Bamber Co-Director, ACREW said "people have been looking at AirNZ from around the world and, unlike some other airlines, in recent years its journey hasn't included industrial disputes with its workers!"

Doak acknowledged that AirNZ's strategies had been influenced by the research published* by Bamber and his colleagues. This demonstrates the practical and international impact of such University research.

Thanks for allowing the reproduction the gist of his article to Gerard May Chief Journalist, Workforce, Thomson Reuters: