Caverton Helicopters, a leading helicopter company in Lagos, has sacked no fewer than 150 staff from its payroll. The retrenchment exercise began on  Thursday with the distribution of letters to the affected staff. Most of those affected by the purge are non-technical staff.

The development has angered the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), which has declared total war against the management. NUATE claimed that the company reneged on agreements related to service conditions, which it reached with the union before the sack of some of its members.

A letter addressed to the General Secretary of the union, Comrade Olayinka Abioye, dated October 28, 2016,  had notified the union of Caverton's plan to sack 150 employees. The letter, which was exclusively made available to SaharaReporters, bore  the reference number Ref:CAV/06/IR/01/10/16 and was signed by the Industrial Relations Manager of Caverton, Mr. Segun Alebiosu.

But rather than the approved severance benefits the company is supposed to pay to the affected staff, Caverton only agreed to pay just one month's salary instead of notice. This is in spite of the fact that most of the affected workers had spent more than 10 years with the company.

The management insisted that the exercise was by the Section 20 of the Nigeria Labour Act, explaining that it took the step after a review of operational exigency and economic climate in the country.

“This will affect a total of 150 staff across all cadres, inclusive of members of your union. Some operational levels within the organization have been approved to be outsourced.

“The following are the offers to the affected staff: Accrued salary up to the effective staff; one month salary instead of notice and contributory pension up to the last full month. We look forward to concluding this by  November 10th, 2016 as the company will not be able to accommodate the overhead therefrom.“You have the assurance of the board and management of Caverton Helicopters that all affected staff shall be given the first option of refusal when and if there is operational demand for the position vacated,” the company's letter stated.

NUATE, however, accused the management of the company of gross insensitivity to the feelings of its employees.

In a letter earlier written to the Federal Ministry of Labour, Commissioner of Police, State Secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and other state branches of the union, NUATE demanded that the company should return to the negotiation table with the affected staff. Dated November 3, 2016, with reference number: NUATE.GS/MD.CAVERTON/ENP/007-16,  the letter was signed by Comrade Olayinka Abioye, General Secretary of the union.

The union further accused the management of Caverton of breaching industrial harmony,  warning that this may lead to an industrial crisis in the company.

The union, through the letter, demanded that the management should as a matter of urgency return to the table to conclude issues of salary review and condition of service as agreed in 2015, adding that its branch Chairman should be reinstated to his previous position of protocol officer.

The union also demanded a withdrawal of all redundancy letters issued to its members in contravention of Section 20 o the Labour Act. Similarly, it demanded that upon conclusion and signing off of the condition of service; Caverton management must re-submit to the union its staff reduction plan, which should include proposals of benefits and how such will be negotiated.

But SaharaReporters investigation found that less than two weeks after receiving the union's letter, the company carried out the purge and without paying required benefits.

One of those affected by the purge confided in our correspondent that he had worked with the company for 13 years and he was paid only for a month instead of notice.

Further investigation indicated that industry unions would,  from next week, begin a concerted industrial action against the company. All the members of the various unions have been notified and being mobilized.

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