Air New Zealand workers plan strike on busiest travel day of the year .

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(Reuters) - Employees at Air New Zealand are planning to go on strike just four days before Christmas, the company said in a statement, a move that could affect thousands of customers in the peak travel season.

FILE PHOTO: An Air New Zealand Boeing 777-300ER plane taxis after landing at Kingsford Smith International Airport in Sydney, Australia, February 22, 2018. REUTERS/Daniel Munoz/File Photo

Unions served notice to the airline of the planned total strike by almost 1,000 employees following a pay dispute.

The company said the strike would take place on Dec. 21, its busiest travel day of the year, with almost 42,000 customers booked to travel on domestic and international flights potentially facing cancellations.

The unions also warned of further industrial action.

The flag carrier airline of New Zealand was notified of the strike by the Aviation and Marine Engineers Association (AMEA) and E tū, which represent the company’s aircraft maintenance engineers, aircraft logistics and related staff.

This standoff comes after a schoolteachers’ and nurses’ strike over pay issues, just over a year after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s Labour Party formed a coalition government, promising to pour money into social services and rein in economic inequality.

The airline said the average income of the workers planning to strike was NZ$115,000 ($79,085), what it said was more than double the average wage in New Zealand.

It said the group had so far rejected proposals for an immediate 2 percent pay hike followed by further 3 percent increase after a year, with another pay review in mid-2021. 

They have also declined a proposal to standardize overtime pay to 150 percent of regular pay rate and a corresponding $6,400 one off payment to address the change in rate, it said.

“The news is extremely disappointing and it appears the engineers are deliberately using Kiwi families’ much anticipated Christmas holidays as a bargaining chip,” the company’s general manager of aircraft maintenance division, Viv de Beus, said.

“We remain committed to working closely with the engineers’ unions to reach a reasonable agreement and avoid strike action if at all possible.”

Customers booked to travel on the regional turbo-prop aircraft fleet will not be affected as this fleet is maintained by a separate work group, the company said.

($1 = 1.4541 New Zealand dollars)

Reporting by Devika Syamnath in Bengaluru; Editing by Kirsten Donovan