Labour unions which made good their threat by grounding the operations of Arik Air because of some unresolved labour and related issues were taken aback when the airline’s staff launched a counter protest saying they should be left alone to suffer their fate.
The unions who were drawn from United Labour Congress (ULC), 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) used giant loud speakers blaring Fela’s revolutionary songs to block the main the entrance to the airline’s corporate headquarters on Airport Road.
They also went to the general aviation where they blocked the airline’s counters.
Despite the heavy presence of armed policemen, the protesters ensured that no management staff of the airline had access to the premises.
In a statement signed by the general secretary of NUATE, Mr. Olayinka Abioye, deputy general secretary of ATSSSAN, Mr. Francis Akinjole and general secretary of the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE), Mr. Aba Ocheme, the unions said the airline’s new management had taken actions to “create a combustible industrial atmosphere” in the company.
“The present posture of the receiver manager and his management team means that the agreement between the unions and Arik Air as witnessed by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority on December 20, 2016 has been thrown into the waste paper basket.
“The workers of Arik Air remain denied of the right to belong to unions of their choosing as well as the benefits of collective bargaining through negotiated conditions of service. Also, all those wrongly terminated remain in limbo, while Arik Air insists on continuing to maltreat its workers as it pleases.
“We shall not sit by idly and allow the management of Arik to succeed with such diabolical plans towards our members in the airline,” they said.
The unions therefore asked the airline to implement the check-off dues system in accordance with the labour law and in tandem with duly endorsed membership request forms from their members in the airline’s employ.
They also demanded for unconditional recall of workers whose appointments were wrongly terminated as well as comply with all laws guiding employment and operation of trade unions.
But while the unionists were busy outside, Arik Air workers emerged with placards with various inscriptions.
Some of the placards read: ‘Is it by force? Is it your salary? Wetin konsain you? Who told you we are suffering?’ ‘Arik staff say NO to unions for now’, ‘Arik must survive. Wrong timing. Please go’, ‘Unions, please leave us alone’.
One of the workers who craved anonymity told News Gazette: “They claim they are fighting for Arik staff welfare. This they are doing by shutting down the airline’s operations. Now we have come out to say we didn’t mandate any union to agitate for us.
“There is a new management at Arik Air and all staff are being patient and cooperative with them to ensure that the airline becomes the pride of Nigeria once again.
“The old management was owing December salary. When the Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON) took over on February 8, they paid us January and February salaries with a promise to pay December after their ongoing audit.
“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.”
Meanwhile, the airline’s management has described as “unclear” the motive behind the picketing.
A statement signed by the consultant to the airline, Mr. Simon Tumba, reads:
“It has come to the attention of the Arik Management, (under Receivership), that the Lagos State branch of NUATE, ATSSSAN and NAAPE has directed their members to picket Arik Airline.
“We hasten to say that the motive of this picketing is unclear to management and their action is therefore illegal. It is a well-known fact that Arik is under Receivership following various challenges experienced over the last few years, which include delays and cancellations of flights, delays in payment of salaries and huge debts to trade creditors and suppliers, bad corporate governance and a host of others.
“In exercise of its statutory powers under the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) act a Receiver was appointed over the affairs of Arik Air on February 6, 2017. With the assistance of AMCON, salaries are being paid including backlogs, on time performance has improved from 15 per cent to average of 80 per cent and fuel suppliers that hitherto quit doing business with Arik are happily doing business with the airline.
“For the record, the management had 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 from undermining the operations of Arik Air. Management would take every legal measure at its disposal to stop any illegal interference with its operations.”