The atmosphere at the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA) in Lagos was charged early this morning as industry unions, keeping a threat they made yesterday, picketed Arik Air.
The action, which started as early as 5 am, led to traffic chaos in the area, especially at the General Aviation Terminal (GAT), from where the airline operates its local flights.
No fewer than 700 passengers of the airline who had earlier booked to depart the airport on its flights were unable to do so due to the picketing.
At the Arik Air’s counters at GAT, no staff of the airline was available to attend to air travelers, a situation which forced some of them to change their travel plans and fly with available alternatives such as Air Peace and Overland Airways.
In addition, the headquarters of the airline at MMA was blocked by the union leaders, some staff of Arik, as well as union members of other airlines, companies and agencies.
At its headquarters, the airline management responded by inviting the police to curb the activities of the protesting unions, but the protesters continued to sing solidarity songs and display placards to press home their demands.
Led by the General-Secretary of the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Comrade Olayinka Abioye, accused the management of enslaving the workers.
Abioye alleged that since the inception of the airline 10 years ago, most of its staff are yet to be promoted, pointing out that some of them work 24-hour days for an entire week, while the white expatriates are treated like kings and are well-taken care of by the management.
He also disclosed that the staff, including pilots and engineers, have not been paid for over seven months despite efforts to that effect by the unions.
Abioye stated that apart from owing workers, the airline is also indebted to aviation agencies such as the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), ground handling services, and other organisations within and outside the industry.
The unions are also accusing the management of deducting taxes from workers’ salaries without remitting to the appropriate authorities, stressing that they would continue to picket the airline until all the issues raised are addressed.
In the words of Abioye: “This is a long awaited strike in the sense that several months back, we initiated industrial action against Arik management and they quickly invited us to a meeting to sort out some of these things and it seems the man that was asked to interface between management and labour, failed in the dispensation of that exercise.
“We felt we need to cry to higher authorities in Nigeria to save our souls. We cannot imagine that there would be an airline in the country’s aviation industry [which] would be owing workers for seven months and nobody cares about it. We cannot imagine that taxes are being deducted from our members and they are not remitted; we cannot imagine that there is going to be an organisation as Arik that would be violating the rights of Nigeria.”
He maintained that the rights of the workers are being breached, asserting that the right of workers to belong to any union of their choice, has been denied them.
“Workers are expected to associate with friends and likeminded people, this has been denied them and also those who joined the unions are being sacked without due regards to the [labour laws] of Nigeria and we are calling for their immediate re-instatement and payment of staff salaries fundamentally before we start any discussion with the management.”
Abioye also accused the management of dilly-dallying in its numerous meetings with the unions.
“The last one that happened was in October at Sheraton Hotels in Lagos, where we tabled our grievances verbally and officially. Capt. Ado Sanusi who is the Vice President of the airline who stood in for management promised to look into the matter within one week and get back to us, which [was] not to be.
“That was about two months ago. Our doors have always been open to management, but what we can deduce is that this management is hell-bent in frustrating our efforts and it’s intentionally traumatising its workers,” he said.