Arik Writes Minister over Threats by Union to Disrupt Its Operation

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By Chinedu Eze

Nigerian major carrier, Arik Air, has written a letter of appeal to the Minister of Labour and Employment, urging him to interface with the aviation unions that threatened to disrupt the airline’s operations over workers’ welfare and non-payment of allowances.

Arik Air in the letter sought the understanding and cooperation of the unions; while explaining some key issues in the disagreement.

The airline also observed that the issues in the dispute cannot pass the test of fairness, and alleged that the unions’ leadership has abused their position without exhausting various channels of engagement, discussion, and consensus.

The letter, which was made available to THISDAY, was titled: ‘Re-Unions in Arik Air Threaten to Down Tools September 14’, dated September 11, 2020, was written by the Chief Executive Officer, Arik Air in Receivership, Captain Roy Ilegbodu, and directed to the Minister of Labour and Employment as well as copied the Minister of Aviation and the Director-General of NCAA.

The letter in part strongly condemned the planned action, stating: “We strongly believe that the threat of strike without an exhaustive use of the various channels of engagement, discussion, consensus and understanding is faulty and unlikely to yield the best outcomes for staff, the company and its faithful passengers.

“It is in fact an abuse of the position of union leadership, as the issues in dispute cannot pass the test of fairness, and only affect, in the short term, less than 20 staff members out of a work force of over 1,600.

It went further to explain that prior to Arik Air going into Receivership, employment letters basically detailed the approved emoluments of staffm however, 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.

The letter also stated that in addition, the management has been in discussion with various staff groups and unions to have these policies codified into staff Conditions of Service, but the only area of conflict was a request by unions for a terminal benefit scheme over and above the requirements of the Pension Act

According to the letter, “The only outstanding area of difference is 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 benefit 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 workers 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 majority of airlines packed 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.”

The letter continued: “Notwithstanding, the management restates its commitment to appropriate staff welfare, and will do its best to keep workers motivated within the limit of available resources. We can report with much gratitude that financial creditors have all suspended demands for repayment to ensure the stability of the airline. We are also enjoying the support of fuel suppliers, aircraft parts suppliers and various Maintenance, Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul organisations (MRO) while carefully managing the COVID-19 challenge.

“This is the kind of understanding and support we urge all our staff to imbibe so that we can ride the times and soar.”