…Cause massive traffic gridlock around Lagos airport

By Louis Ibah 

Labour unions in Nigeria’s aviation sector, yesterday, shut down the operations of Arik Air over the failure of its new management to pay salary arrears, re-instate some sacked workers and correct other anti-labour activities.

The picketing of the airline was carried out by 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). The unions, despite the heavy presence of the Nigerian Police, had as early has 4am barricaded the headquarters of the airline thus preventing staff from having access to their offices as well as disrupting counter staff from performing their duties.

Recall that Arik Air was on February 6, 2017, taken over by the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) under a receivership deal.

The unions were angered that since AMCON took over Arik Air, the new management has cut down its flights to 30 per cent and has been able to pay only one month out of the two months salary the former management of the airline owed staff.

Aside the union, some industry analysts have been complaining that many of the airline’s 28 aircraft are now parked with only five still operating.

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“The  day AMCON  took over the operations of the airline, it operated about 70 flights, but  it now operates about 18 flights a day under AMCON,” said a protesting union member.

Daily Sun learnt that the protesting unions had also bared oil marketers from supplying Jet A1 (aviation fuel) to the airline in a bid to render aircraft in the airline’s fleet non-functional.

Aside causing flight disruptions to passengers who were billed to travel with it to various destinations in and outside the country, the activities of the protesting unions also created human and vehicular traffic along the roads leading into and out of the airport.

Some passengers who had early morning flights to catch at the Lagos airports had to disembark from vehicles carrying them to walk down to the airport terminal.

But as the organised labour was protesting the poor working condition of workers of the airline as well as the decision of the new management of the airline to bar members from joining industry unions, some Arik Air staff were also engaged in a counter protest demanding that the unions halt their protests and allow them commence work.

“Wrong timing: Leave Arik Air Alone,” read a  placard by one of the workers.  The General Secretary of NUATE, Mr. Olayinka Abioye, in an interview with journalists, accused the new management of Arik Air of being intolerant to unionism.

Abioye said, “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.         “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,” the statement added.