Chinelo Obogo, Lagos
Two aviation unions, the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) and the Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN), have grounded Arik Air operations over a disagreement with the airline management over non-payment of salaries and other conditions of service.
The unions barricaded the headquarters of the airline with their vehicles while members were chanting solidarity songs as their actions left passengers stranded.
The unions had earlier given an ultimatum to the management to resolve the issues of salary and severance benefits and resume the discussions on the conditions of service or face industrial action.
Passengers of the airline were stranded and could not travel morning as many of them were angry that they were not informed about the development and decided to buy tickets from other airlines to travel.
NUATE Secretary-General Ocheme Aba said the action was necessary following the refusal of the airline to agree to their demands.
He said their 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 per cent of staff were needed at work and promised that the 80 per cent sent on compulsory leave would be paid 20 per cent salaries when those on duty would be paid 50 per cent salaries.
Aba said the management only paid one month salary 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 the payment of 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.
‘For people who were even coming to work, they were paying them less than 50% of their salaries and the people at home whom they say they were going to pay 20%, they didn’t pay. They paid for only one month and thereafter nothing again till date.’
He said that another burning issue is the conditions of service for the staff which he said never existed in the airline.
He said this has lingered for over three years accusing the airline of bringing up issues to frustrate their efforts at negotiations.
In a statement, the manager, Communications and Public Relations of Arik Air, Adebanji Ola,
apologised to passengers over flight disruption, describing the protesting staff as disgruntled.
He said, ‘the management of Arik Air (In Receivership)apologises to all our esteemed customers whose travel plans were disrupted by the picketing of our operations by some disgruntled staff on Monday, September 14, 2020.
‘We wish to place on record that the picketing was illegal and has no backing of the aviation unions whose leadership have embraced dialogue by attending mediatory meetings called for Tuesday, September 15, by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
‘The management strongly condemns this action and once again assures all 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.
‘We are already working with the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Ministry of Aviation and Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to resolve all pending issues with the unions and a section of the staff.
‘Customers with valid tickets who could not fly on Monday can modify such tickets at no cost for future travels. We are working to bring the situation under control and the public will be advised accordingly.’
Arik Air had written to the Minister of Labour, Chris Ngige and Aviation, Captain Hadi Sirika, to wade into the matter.
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 benefits 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 the 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,’ he said.