THERE was confusion at the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA), Lagos yesterday as aviation unions led by the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) made do an earlier threat to shut down Arik Air operations over staff welfare among many other spelt out reasons.
The picketing of the airline by the labour unions, which started as early as 6am in the morning, hampered free movement of vehicles particularly at the General Aviation Terminal (GAT), where the airline operates its local flights from.
This is just as the airline management has expressed its dismay and disappointment over what it called an ambush and disruption of its operations by a group of aviation unions.
The disruption of its domestic flights, the airline’s regional and international flights were totally shut down.
During a visit to the Arik Air’s counters at the GAT, no staff of the airline was available to attend to travellers, forcing some of them to change their booking plans to fly with other available airlines like Air Peace and Overland Airways.
As if not enough, the headquarters of the airline at local wing of the airport was blocked by the union leaders with the cooperation of some staff of the airline and other union members from other airlines, companies and agencies.
To avoid been caught napping, the airline management invited men of the Nigeria Police to curb the activities of the protesting unions, an action which did not dissuade the unions from singing solidarity songs and displayed placards to press home their demands.
The unions have accused the airline management of deducting taxes from workers’ salaries without remitting to the appropriate place, stressing that the unions would continue to picket the airline until all the issues raised are addressed.
The unions, led by the General-Secretary of the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Comrade Olayinka Abioye, while accusing the management of wilfully enslaving the workers, alleged that since the inception of the airline 10 years ago, most of its staff are yet to be promoted, some work 24 hours a day for a week while the white expatriates are treated like kings and well-taken care of by the management.
Another accusation levelled against the airline include its failure to pay its workers including pilots and engineers for onward seven months while every effort to ensure payments by the unions has failed.
Apart from owing workers, the airline is also indebted to aviation agencies like the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), ground handling services and other organisations within and outside the industry.
His words: “This is a long awaited strike in the sense that several months back, we have initiated industrial action against Arik management and they quickly invited us to a meeting to sort out some of these things and it seems the man that was asked to interface between management and labour, failed in the dispensation of that exercise.
“We felt we need to cry to higher authorities in Nigeria to safe our souls. We cannot imagine that there would be an airline in the country’s aviation industry who would be owing workers for seven months and nobody cares about it. We cannot imagine that taxes are being deducted from our members and they are not remitted, we cannot imagine that there is going to be an organisation as Arik that would be violating the rights of Nigeria.
“Fundamentally too, the rights of our workers are being breached now and then. Workers have the right to belong to any union of their choice, this has been bastardly denied them, workers are expected to associate with friends and likeminded people, this has been denied them and also those who joined the unions are being sacked without due regards to the labours of Nigeria and we are calling for their immediate re-instatement and payment of staff salaries fundamentally before we start any discussion with the management.”
Abioye also accused the management of dilly-dallying in its numerous meetings with the unions.
In a statement issued by the public relations manager of the airline, Adebanji Ola partly stated:
“The union leadership had earlier written a letter to the management of Arik Air on their grievances and a meeting had been scheduled between the two parties for Wednesday, December 21, 2016. The unions however did not wait for the scheduled meeting or the outcome of the meeting, before embarking on such disruptive and strong-arm tactics against the airline.
“The unions have demonstrated total disregard for the laws of Federal Republic of Nigeria by interfering in the operations of the airline and preventing airline staff from carrying on with their duties of handling the passengers booked for today’s flights.
The decision not to join the aviation unions is that of the generality of Arik Air and the management of the airline is not involved in any manner and neither can it influence such individual decisions in any form since Unionism is a free will and not a matter of compulsion”