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Wednesday 08 April 2009

Flight attendant speaks up... and wigs out

Posted in: Community
By Matt Akersten - 3rd April 2009

Protesting: Pierre Godquin
Flight attendant Pierre Godquin almost got suspended yesterday for wearing a wig, a pink scarf and yellow handbag at work. Why? He's fighting for employment parity in the job he, and many of his fellow gay men, loves.

"When I applied for this job a bit more than a year ago, I did through the Air New Zealand website, had my interview at Air NZ head offices, and did my training at the Air NZ training centre with all the rest of the Air NZ people... Then I started to work in my Air NZ uniform on Air NZ branded aircraft so I thought I was part of a big family I already had friends in.

"After a couple of months I realised that wasn't the case. I was actually part of a cheap labour force resulting on the incorporation of Freedom Air into Air NZ, but not linked directly to Air NZ. Under the new agreement the company is offering, they want to extend our 'minimum 10 hour rest' to any port. This would mean that we could go to LA, be parked at an hotel close to the airport for 10 hours and then come back. The allowance we would get would be taken out of our pay, and not in addition to it like for Air NZ long haul staff who would stay in LA a day or two, I believe, before they come back.

"What we are asking is parity," Pierre concludes. "Same pay and working conditions for people wearing the same uniform and work on the same routes, even if they are on a different aircraft."

Pierre says he hardly earns $1,100 a fortnight, and gets less than $800 a fortnight when on leave. "We're earning less than domestic crew at the moment. They should treat us fairly, the same as our counterparts from Long Haul flights."


Silly outfits, serious message
A planned Air New Zealand flight attendant's strike involving around 250 people has been called off as the airline is continuing talks with the Engineering, Printing & Manufacturing Union to resolve the dispute - but in the meantime, Pierre and his fellow in-flight entertainers have fashioned a more visual form of protest.

"Yesterday I showed up for work wearing a wig tied with a lovely pink scarf and some other essential accessories like a yellow handbag, some sparkle around my neck, a rainbow flag line yard and the essentials - YSL lipstick and Thierry Muggler gloss," he laughs.

"I was asked to take the wig off as they are not considering it as 'a change of hairstyle'. Lucky I sprayed my hair silver underneath as plan B! My team wanted to be suspended with me, but I ended up taking it off. Just as a reminder, wigs weren't much of a problem on board the Pink Flight (to Sydney Mardi Gras), so they are really playing with words here."


"Got a dollar?" Pierre (right) with fellow flight staff
Pierre says he loves his job for the travelling and chance to bond with a new team each time he flies. "I love being on a trip. I got to discover Brisbane and Dunedin for example. But most of the time we land into a nice tropical island, and we're gone back home within an hour or less, that must be the most frustrating part of the job I guess.

"For me, being away from my family and friends, it also means being able to go back to Europe for cheaper than usual, even if Air NZ has stopped and cancelled any staff travel since the start of the industrial action. A lot of the crew has now to fly with cheaper airlines since we cannot even afford to fly with our own airline on normal fares."

Asked whether, as is commonly believed, most of the male flight attendants he works with are gay, Godquin observes: "Well I did have a lot of pre-conceived ideas about the job on this point as well... but I discovered a lot of fathers, mothers, blokes and young heterosexuals too. The lesbian community is not as dominant in the girl population as homosexuality is amongst us boys, though."

He says the necessary shift work can make relationships difficult. "Most of us are in stable relationships, though they are having a hard time with this shift work that make you start duties at 4:30am on Sundays or 8:40pm on Fridays and coming back after 7am!"

More news about the airline staff protest actions - including a video from TV3 - are on the links below.

Matt Akersten - 3rd April 2009