…Sign interim MoU with Arik management
By Bimbo Oyesola and Adewale Sanyaolu
Nigerian air travellers yesterday heaved a sigh of relief as protesting workers of Arik Airline, Nigeria’s leading domestic carrier, suspended their strike mounted Tuesday to challenge management’s inability to pay outstanding remunerations owed them.
The industrial action spearheaded by newly inaugurated United Labour Congress (ULC) and the Nigerian pilots and engineers union, which said they could no longer tolerate the firm’s inability to pay workers for seven months, had sent shockwaves down the spine of travellers most of whom had purchased tickets for Christmas and new year travels.
Part of the conditions reached with Arik management was to allow workers freedom to belong to union of their choice, a contentious issue that the employers had resisted for years.
But the signing of the agreement also put on hold the one-day protest, which had paralysed all the business activities of the airline on Tuesday.
The General Secretary of the National Association of Aircraft Pilot and Engineers and the Treasurer of the newly formed labour centre, ULC, Ocheme Abba, told Daily Sun that the management eventually agreed to sign an interim agreement with the unions in the sector, having realised the colossal loss and inconveniences the one-day protest has caused the organisation and its customers.
“We have suspended the protest after the management signed an interim agreement with us that they will pay all the outstanding as well as allow unions to operate,” he said.
He, however, noted that the workers only suspended the picketing and may be forced to return if the management reneges on its promise.
The association scribe, however, said that safety and rehabilitation of the aircraft were not part of the issues reported to the unions by the members.
Meanwhile, Arik Air said it has resumed scheduled flight operations following the meeting called by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to address the airline and the aviation unions.
Its Public Relations and Communications Manager, Mr.Banji Ola, said it operated flights from both Lagos and Abuja the evening of Tuesday (yesterday), while full scheduled operations will resume from the morning of Wednesday (today).
The airline,equally said it has put in place extra flights to various domestic destinations between today and Saturday, and has also upgraded aircraft on certain routes to a bigger capacity to cope with the backlog of passengers whose flights were affected by the unions’ disruptive action.
In the same vein, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) said the agency was able to broker a truce between both parties, leading to the suspension of the strike.
As a result, the airline has commenced full scale operations to all their domestic and international destinations.
A statement by the General Manager, Public Relations, NCAA, Mr. Sam Adurogboye, said the regulator, had to intervene to avert the impending chaos the strike would have brought to the huge volume of passengers who are travelling for the yuletide and end of the year celebrations.
Recall that the operations of Arik Airline, among other domestic carriers, have been blighted by severe challenges including scarcity of aviation fuel, although the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation ( NNPC), early this week, said it had flooded the industry with Jet A1.
Some international carriers including United Airlines and Iberia had stopped scheduled services to Nigeria earlier this year, while others have begun refuelling abroad to avoid jet fuel shortages even as they complained of difficulties of repatriating millions of dollars in fares sold in Nigeria’s local currency.
Earlier yesterday, Tokunbo Korodo, Acting Chairman of ULC, told newsmen that the union could no longer tolerate the inhumane treatment of Arik management on its workers. He said that apart from owing workers for seven months, the airline was not remitting taxes of workers to relevant bodies.
Nigeria is in its first recession in 25 years the impact of which had earlier this year seen two other local carriers, Aero Contractors and First Nation, out of business. amid financial difficulties.
In a statement issued late on Monday, the unions said the strike began at midnight (2300 GMT) and would continue indefinitely until demands, including the payment of seven months of salary arrears and negotiations over contract conditions, were met.
According to the union leaders, the on going strike would paralyse “All ground handling services, security clearance for Arik Air ticket holders, marshalling, aviation fuel supply, air traffic controls,and safety inspection,
The statement was issued by the National Union of Air Transport Employees, Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria and the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers.
The impact on services provided by the airline, which flies across Africa’s most populous nation and to London, New York and Johannesburg, was not immediately clear.
But in a text message to Reuters , Arik Air spokesman, Ola Olabanji noted “It is not a strike by Arik staff. The aviation unions stopped our operations,”
Arik Air is planning to raise as much as $1 billion through a private share placement next year and then a possible initial public offering (IPO) in Lagos and London, its managing director said in October.
Nigerian airlines and international carriers operating within the country have struggled with a plunge in the naira that has made it difficult to remain profitable as most passengers pay in the local currency.