Arik Air Sacks 40 Pilots over Demand for Improved Welfare

They breached the chain of command, says Receiver Manager

Chinedu Eze

The management of Arik Air has sacked 40 of its Nigerian pilots after they downed tools on Tuesday after their demand to meet the company’s Receiver Manager, Mr. Kamilu Omokide, to discuss their welfare and salary increase was allegedly rebuffed.

But Omokide who spoke to THISDAY, described their action as illegal, unfair and sabotage to the company.

THISDAY learnt that the pilots had in the past held several meetings with the company’s management and after every meeting the management would refer them to Omokide.

The pilots allegedly wrote to Omokide, requesting a meeting with him on December 20, and warned that if they didn’t meet with him on the said date, they would down tools.

On Tuesday, THISDAY learnt that the pilots downed tools when their demand for a meeting was rebuffed. Except for skeletal services, the airline operation was effectively grounded. By the evening of yesterday, the pilots started getting sack letters from the management, by late evening all 40 pilots had been relieved.

One of the pilots said the Receiver Manager was peeved that the pilots gave him a deadline. He was said to have accused them of abandoning their work.

“We requested to meet with the Receiver Manager. We did not ask for increase in salary but wanted to meet with him to discuss our welfare. We said if he did not meet with us on December 20, we would stop work.

“It is not as if we suddenly stopped working; we made our intentions known but we started receiving sack letters since Tuesday and we heard he was angry because we gave him a deadline and also he was angry, accusing us of abandoning our duties,” the source said.

But the Receiver Manager told THISDAY that in the channel of command and according to the company’s procedures, the pilots ought to have met with the CEO and by not doing that they breached the chain of command and agreeing to meet with them would be to further breach the structure.

“I am the Receiver Manager, not the Accountable Manager. This company runs by processes and manuals. It is true they asked to speak with me through their boss and I responded to them through their boss. They did not want to speak with the CEO. This company runs on best practices. They should have walked through the channels,” he said.

Omokide said he knew they wanted to talk about remuneration but they did not make it clear what they wanted to see him for and they invited him to attend their meeting, describing their action as highly derogatory, rude and condescending.

He said he discussed with the pilots on Monday, adding that they ought to know that Arik Air’s operations had been challenged this year.

“So why should the issue of salary be raised in December? I said, let’s discuss in January. Be patient till January, but on Tuesday they went on strike. Their action was illegal, unfair and sabotage. I don’t know if somebody is sending them to do this. Their action was unprofessional,” he said.

Omokide expressed the hope that the company may eventually settle with the pilots, warning that if they push him, he might advertise their positions and replace them.

“Until they have a change of course, I am not going to pull back. What they have done is putting people’s lives at risk. This is December the time to make money for the company and you are going on strike,” Omokide said.

He stressed that Arik has never owed the pilots despite the devastating effect of COVID-19 on flight operations

Omokide said, “We do not owe them a kobo despite the COVID-19 challenges. This month we have paid over and above their salaries, but despite that they refused to work. We need to ask them, why did they refuse to work? How many days’ notice did they give before embarking on strike? Why did they not go through the unions?”

The airline, which had scheduled flights to many domestic destinations and has sold tickets to many travellers this yuletide season may ground operations with the sack of the pilots.

But sources told THISDAY that the airline has about three aircraft on wet lease, which means that these would operate flights with foreign crew.

Besides the wet leased aircraft, the airline has two Bombardier Q400, one Boeing 737-700 and one Boeing 737-800 that are operated by the airline’s pilot, which may be grounded

Reliable source also told THISDAY that Arik Air management was negotiating to poach Allied Air pilots, a cargo airline, which recently acquired Boeing 737-800 freighter jet so that they would operate the airline’s Boeing 737.

Omokide did not deny this but said it was Arik that trained Allied Air pilots.

However, senior official from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) told THISDAY that although the Boeing 737-800 are same, but such pilots, if engaged by Arik would not automatically start operating for the commercial airliner but would have to follow company procedure of the new airline.

“The aircraft are the same, except for cargo specifics, but the pilots wont jus start flying for Arik Air. They will have to go through company procedure,” the NCAA official said.

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