Arik Air shut as workers, unionists clash
Management vows to address incident legally
True to their threat, aviation unions, comprising the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) and National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE), yesterday grounded operations of Arik Air in Lagos.
The incident, however, did not come without resistance. In the events leading to the shutdown, a mild drama played out at the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) of the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMMA) where the management and workers of Arik Air engaged the unions albeit unsuccessfully.
With the new development, the woes of the beleaguered airline, currently under the control of the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON), have worsened. Attempts at bailing it out of indebtedness are also in jeopardy while huge funds would be lost to cancelled flights. Also adversely affected are passengers whose scheduled trips are disrupted and workers who are at the risk of being rendered jobless.
The protest, which began at 6:00 a.m. with a blockade to the airline headquarters’ main access gate, was soon met with resistance from workers of the company. Other domestic airlines were beneficiaries of the unfortunate scenario, as passengers who insisted on flying began switching to available alternatives.
On the busy Lagos-Kaduna route for instance, airlines like Air Peace, Med-View, Dana Air and Azman were fully booked several hours before take-off. As at noon when Arik was grounded, all of its four scheduled Lagos-Kaduna flights were already full, with prices ranging from N32,500 to N38,000 for an economy class seat.
Med-View whose patronage had been around 80 per cent capacity on Lagos-Kaduna, Lagos-Kano routes, had no vacancy yesterday as stranded passengers took all seats. Across the five operating domestic airlines, ticket prices immediately rose by 25 per cent.
The unions had on Wednesday threatened to ground Arik Air over sacked workers and welfare issues, including an alleged non-payment of December salaries. The Guardian learnt that the protest, led by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), was objected to by some of the placard-carrying workers who queried the interest of the unions in the matter.
On the placards were inscriptions like: “Is it by force? Is it your salary? Wetin konsain you? Who told you we are suffering?” A senior member of the airline, Kayode Badmus, said: “Some members of the public under the guise of aviation unions have again come to disrupt activities at the headquarters of Arik Air. Please note that no member of staff is in support of this unnecessary action. Leave Arik Air alone.”
On the allegedly unpaid December salaries, another worker said the issue was a hangover from the old management, adding that AMCON had pledged to offset it at a later date, having settled January and February dues.
“So, technically, we are only being owed December salary which is the ousted management’s fault. The union members are only trying to be relevant. They want AMCON to include them on their payroll for doing nothing.
“They are not our staff now. They are career unionists who get paid by staging protests like this,” the female worker said. To forestall a breakdown of law and order, scores of mobile police personnel, led by the state Commissioner of Police, Fatai Owoseni and the Area Commander, were on ground.
It was further learnt that the unions instructed fuel marketers not to supply the organisation. The General Secretary of NUATE, Olayinka Abioye, said the decision to picket the airline was informed by the alleged new management’s intolerance of unionism and arrogant approach.
The airline’s media consultant, Simon Tumba, said as far as management was concerned, “the motive of this picketing is unclear and their action is therefore illegal.” He added: “For the record, the management has engaged with its staff and is convinced that there is no reason to picket our airline which is facing challenging times.
“The focus of the Arik Air management is to stabilise the operations of the airline and enhance its ability to play a positive role in Nigeria’s aviation industry. Therefore, the management of the airline advises the unions to steer clear. Management would take every legal measure at its disposal to stop any illegal interference with its operations.”
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