Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 July 2019

Air New Zealand ends ban on staff tattoos amid discrimination concerns

Some New Zealanders with Maori heritage wear culturally sacred tattoos to represent their genealogy

Air New Zealand uses uses a fern-like Maori symbol known as a 'koru' in its logo and on the tail of its planes. Reuters
Air New Zealand uses uses a fern-like Maori symbol known as a 'koru' in its logo and on the tail of its planes. Reuters

Air New Zealand said on Monday it was ending a longstanding ban on staff having visible tattoos after facing criticism that the policy discriminated against Maori employees.

Some New Zealanders with indigenous Maori heritage wear culturally sacred tattoos on their face or arms to represent their genealogy. But uniform rules at the national airline restrict them from applying for roles such as flight attendant.

Many culture and rights advocates said the policy was discriminatory and noted that Air New Zealand draws on the Maori language in its marketing campaigns and uses a fern-like symbol known as a 'koru' in its logo and on the tail of its planes.

Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon said the policy was being dropped, and non-offensive tattoos would be allowed.

"In conversations we've had with customers and our own people domestically and overseas in the past five months, it's clear that there is growing acceptance of tattoos in New Zealand, particularly as a means of cultural and individual expression," Mr Luxon said in a statement.

Tania Te Whenua, head of Te Whenua Law and Consulting which provides Maori cultural advice to organisations, said New Zealand companies, particularly those that profit from using Maori culture in international marketing campaigns, should respect the rights of their staff.

"That's a shortcoming of the embracing of Maori culture and other cultures by organisations only so far as it's profit-making ... that makes it particularly egregious for Maori," she told Reuters.

The tattoos, known as 'Ta Moko' are a deeply sacred expression of cultural identity, according to Ms Te Whenua.

"When there are policies which seek to extinguish the visual representation of that practice, it's quite hard-hitting," she said.

Updated: June 10, 2019 01:30 PM

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