Passengers stranded as Aviation Unions shutdown Arik Air operations


By Kelvin Osa Okunbor

Hundreds of passengers were on Monday stranded at the domestic wings of the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA), Ikeja, Lagos as Aviation Unions stopped Arik Air from operating flights out of the airport.

As early as 6.00 am members of National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) and the Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) occupied the entrance gate into the airline premises preventing workers from gaining access into the facility.

The union members barricaded entrance into the airline headquarters with their vehicles singing solidarity songs.

Carrying placards displaying many messages, they described the airline as running a slave camp where workers rights and condition of service are abused.

An official of the airline said the unions shut down their operations.

Some of the passengers expressed surprise over the development as the airline management did not tell them that they were on strike.

They described the decision of the airline to not carry them along as the height of irresponsibility as they met empty counters at the departure.

The passengers who were angry that they were not informed about the development decided to buy tickets from other airlines to travel.

Comrade Ocheme Aba, Secretary General, NUATE said the action became necessary following the refusal of the airline Management to accede to their demands.

He said the union’s demands include payment of the balance of the staff salaries both for those who worked and at home during the period of the lockdown.

According to him, a circular by the Arik Air Management informed the staff during the lockdown that only 20% of staff were needed at work and promised that the 80 percent sent on compulsory leave would be paid 20 percent salaries when those on duty would be paid 50% salaries.

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Comrade Aba said, the Management only paid one month and till date nothing had been paid to both those who were at work and those at home. First of all these decisions were taken unilaterally and based on labour practice every decision that would affect in terms of payment of the workers has to be negotiated, there has to be a collective bargaining agreement, that’s the labour and yet they didn’t even keep to that promise.”

Adding that, “for people who were even coming to work they were paying them less than 50 per cent of their salaries who were struggling on their own to find their way to work during that period of lockdown go businesses for which they were making more than normal money and the people at home whom they say they were going to pay 20 percent they didn’t pay, they paid for only one month and thereafter nothing again till date.”

Comrade Aba stressed that another burning issue is the conditions of Service for the staff, which had never existed in the airline.

He said this had been lingering for over three years since 2017 as the airline had kept bringing up issues to frustrate their efforts at negotiations.

Investigation revealed that the Director General, NCAA has waded into the matter as a meeting has been scheduled for Tuesday for the unions and the Arik Management.

Recall that the Arik Air Management last week wrote to the Ministers of Labour and Employment and his counterpart in Aviation to wade into the matter.

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In the letter signed by the Managing Director of Arik Air, Captain Roy Ilegbodu said: “the only outstanding area of difference is the request by the unions for a terminal benefit scheme over and above the requirements of the Pension Act.

“They request for an independent retirement benefit scheme that will be wholly funded by the airline where retiring, resigning and terminated staff will receive a lump sum payment upon exit that will in some cases double the joint contribution of management and staff under the Pension Act of 2004 as amended.

“They request for an independent retirement benefit scheme that will be wholly funded by the airline where retiring, resigning and terminated staff will receive a lump sum payment upon exit that will in some cases double the joint contribution of management and staff under the Pension Act of 2004 as amended.

“While it is the right of staff to share in the prosperity of a company, the request for an additional retirement scheme from a loss making company, in receivership and whose operations are supported by creditors over and above legal requirements is simply onerous.

“Given the cost driven challenges in the aviation sector that have seen majority of airlines fold up in the past years, the request by the unions will set an unsustainable standard for other airlines that are struggling to survive in these difficult times. Notwithstanding, management restates its commitment to appropriate staff welfare and will do its best to keep workers motivated within the limit of available resources.

“We can report with much gratitude that financial creditors have all suspended demands for repayment to ensure the stability of the airline. We are also enjoying the support of fuel suppliers, aircraft parts suppliers and various Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul organizations (MRO) while carefully managing the COVID19 challenge. This is the kind of understanding and support we urge all our staff to imbibe so that we can ride the times and soar.

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“Honorable Minster sir, we thank the umbrella body for Pilots and Engineers, National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE) and the vast majority of staff for their understanding and cooperation as we navigate the post COVID challenges. While we appeal that you intervene in seeking for the understanding and cooperation of the workers’ unions, we remain committed to protecting the airline and assure our stakeholders of a safe and conducive working environment. We shall also protect the interest of the flying public for a safe, friendly and on time travelling experience.”



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