By Chukwuemeke Iwelinmo
National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) and the Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) have directed their members (except pilots and engineers) at Arik Air to commence a strike from today over condition of service issues and treatment of workers during the COVID-19 lockdown.
The two unions had promised to call Arik Air workers out on a strike over alleged non-payment of staff salaries in the airline since April after 90 per cent of the workforce were placed on a compulsory leave.
The unions in a letter titled: ‘Notice of Withdrawal of Service’, addressed to all Arik staff, explained that it had earlier shelved a planned strike due to the intervention of the Minister of Labour and Employment.
“You may recall that the withdrawal of service planned for 17th August 2020 was shelved temporarily to allow for further dialogue at the instance of the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment.
“Unfortunately and regrettably, the Management of Arik Air took advantage of our peaceable disposition to continually frustrate our efforts to resolve the Conditions of Service negotiations as well as our demand for just and fair treatment for the workers during the COVID-19 period.
“In response, therefore, our Unions have no choice but to reinstate the notice of withdrawal of services. Accordingly, all Arik Air workers (other than Pilots and Engineers) are hereby directed to withdraw all services with effect from 00hrs on 14th September 2020 until the time issues stated above are satisfactorily resolved,” the statement reads.
Meanwhile, the management of Arik Air has called on the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, to intervene in the planned industrial action by NUATE and ATSSSAN.
In a letter to the minister by the Chief Executive Officer of Arik, Capt. Roy Ilegbodu, entitled, “Re-Unions in Arik Air threaten to down tools September 14th” dated September 11, 2020, Ilegbodu stated that the threat of a strike action is coming without an exhaustive use of the various channels of engagement, discussion, consensus and understanding which he described as faulty and unlikely to yield the best outcomes for staff, the company and its faithful passengers.
He described the action of the unions as an abuse of the position of union leadership, saying the issues in dispute cannot pass the test of fairness and only affect, in the short term, less than 20 staff out of a workforce of over 1600.
Ilegbodu explained that prior to Arik Air Ltd going into receivership, the employment letters basically detailed the approved emoluments of staff, and that since the commencement of the receivership, this has been expanded by the introduction of policies to create best practice work environments to deliver top-notch services.
He noted that management had been in discussion with various staff groups and unions to have these policies codified into Staff Conditions of Service and have a share of mind on most issues.
According to the letter, the only outstanding area of difference, he reiterated, was the request by the unions for a terminal benefit scheme over and above the requirements of the Pension Act.
“They request for an independent retirement benefits scheme that will be wholly funded by the airline where retiring, resigning and terminated staff will receive a lump sum payment upon exit that will, in some cases, double the joint contribution of management and staff under the Pension Act of 2004 as amended.
“While it is the right of staff to share in the prosperity of a company, the request for an additional retirement scheme from a loss-making company, in receivership and whose operations are supported by creditors over and above legal requirements is simply onerous.
“Given the cost-driven challenges in the aviation sector that have seen the majority of airlines fold up in the past years, the request by the unions will set an unsustainable standard for other airlines that are struggling to survive in these difficult times.
Notwithstanding, management restates its commitment to appropriate staff welfare and will do its best to keep workers motivated within the limit of available resources.”