Following Wednesday’s suspension of flight operations by the management of Aero Contractors, leading aviation workers’ unions, on Thursday, stormed the airline’s head office at the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA), Lagos, in protest.
The unions demanded immediate payment of severance benefits to the over 1,500 workers of the airline who have lost their benefits due to the discontinuation of flight operations.
Sources told SaharaReporters that 25 pilots and 300 other categories of staff engineers were on strike while over 300 had begun tendering their resignation letters about three months ago when they failed to signs of improvement in the airline.
A SaharaReporters correspondent who was at venue of the protest saw union members and the airline’s staff singing protest songs and wielding placards with messages detailing their ill-treatment by the Aero Contractors.
Benjamin Okewu, President of the Air Traffic Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) and Olayinka Abioye, acting General Secretary of the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), led about 400 workers to picket the airline.
Mr. Okewu told our correspondent that the unions would continue their siege on the airline’s office until all the labour issues affecting their members are addressed.
He accused the airline’s management of not carry the unions along before winding down operations.
“Just about two months ago, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment asked us to enter into meaningful negotiations with the management of the airline, which were still going on. It was a rude shock for us to first hear it as a rumor that the airline had suspended all scheduled operations.
“Immediately, we got across to our members who equally said that they were not in the know of the suspension of flight operations.
“Then, we met made attempts to speak with their management on the issue, but all our efforts were futile as we could not get across to them,” said Okewu.
SaharaReporters gathered that the management, led by the Chief Operating Officer (CEO), Capt. Fola Akinkuotu, decided against informing the staff and unions of its decision to suspend operations because the company did not have the funds to meet its obligations to staff.
A source close to the airline said the management had proposed either a 50 percent pay cut or the same percentage of reduction in staff strength, but the unions rejected both proposals.
According to the source, workers’ wages far outstripped the revenue generated by the airline, whose fleet, comprising of fixed and rotary wings, had been depleted from over 30 to just two (Boeing 737 and Dash-8 aircraft) within five years.
“Before we eventually closed operations yesterday, we met with the unions and proposed to them our positions, but they refused to see reason with us. The only thing we could do was to catch them unaware as we did.
“However, AMCON and NCAA were aware of our decision to end operations. We will ensure that all wages are paid, but that will be when we recommence flight operations and we don’t know when,” the source said.