By Adekunle Williams / Solomon Asowata
Three aviation unions on Tuesday shut down the operations of Arik Air, leaving hundreds of the airline’s passengers stranded across Nigeria.
The strike was embarked upon by the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), the Air Transport Senior Staff Services Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) and the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers(NAAPE).
The unions embarked on the joint strike following the airline’s failure to pay seven months salary arrears and refusal to alter its anti-labour practices.
The unions said the industrial action would continue indefinitely until their demands are met by the management of Arik Air.
They shut down Arik Air’s flight operations at both the local and international wings of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos and also barricaded the airline’s corporate headquarters within the airport premises.
As early as 6:00 a.m, the aggrieved workers stormed the airport chanting solidarity songs and carrying placards with various inscriptions, denouncing the actions of Arik Air’s management.
Addressing the protesters, Mr Olayinka Abioye, General Secretary, NUATE, said the unions decided to ground Arik Air for safety reasons.
Abioye said : “Arik Air has refused to pay workers salaries for seven months and we know that a disgruntled worker is an accident waiting to happen.
“The airline has been defaulting in taxes and other statutory deductions from workers remunerations.
“The management has refused to allow total unionisation of its employees, in compliance with extant labour laws and with respect to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
He also demanded for the immediate reinstatement of five of the airline’s employees who were sacked for their involvement in unionism.
They want management of Arik Air allows to allow for total unionisation of its employees, in compliance with extant labour laws and with respect to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Other demands included the Arik Air’s recall of all sacked employees who have been victimised for their roles in the effort to bring about unionisation in Arik Air.
They also called for the immediate review of all employee remunerations which had remained the same since the inception of Arik Air, over ten years ago.
The unions further demanded for immediate commencement of negotiations of Conditions of Service to be concluded within four weeks and remittance of Pension, Tax, and statutory deductions to the appropriate authorities.
They also urged the management of Arik Air to comply with the Nigerian Expatriate Quota law.
Abioye further alleged that Arik Air was owing about N13 billion and N6 billion to the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), respectively.
According to him, the airline is also indebted to its aviation fuel suppliers and ground handlers and should therefore be declared insolvent by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
Also speaking, Mr Frances Akinjole, General Secretary, ATSSSAN, said the unions were prepared to embark on the strike for as long as possible.
“Things cannot be business as usual for Arik. A pilot who is disgruntled can crash an aircraft deliberately. An engineer who is being owed salaries can sabotage the aircraft.
“So we need to ground Arik Air until the management shows that they are responsible,” Akinjole added.
Arik Air’s passengers at the General Aviation Terminal resorted to changing their travel plans as there was no staff to attend to them at the airline’s counter.
One of the passengers, Ms Tomisin Olukare, said that she bought a one-way ticket from Lagos to Abuja at N42, 000 three days ago.
“I came this morning and there is nobody to attend to me and my flight is supposed to leave by 10:00 a.m., so I am really confused,” she said.
Another passenger, Mrs Chika Emmanuel, said an agent assisted her in buying an Air Peace ticket for Abuja immediately she sensed that there was going to be a disruption on Arik Air operations.
Emmanuel said she would be demanding for a refund of her ticket from Arik Air when she returns from her trip.
The Corporate Communications Manager of Arik Air, Mr Ola Adebanji, said the airline would soon issue a statement on the situation.