HUNDREDS of passengers were stranded on Monday at the domestic wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA) in Ikeja, Lagos, as aviation unions stopped Arik Air from operating flights out of the airport.

As early as 6 a.m, members of the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) and the Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) occupied the entrance gate to the airline’s office and sang solidarity songs.

They prevented the airline’s workers from entering the facility.

The union members carried placards with various inscriptions, accusing the airline of running a slave camp where its workers’ rights and conditions of service were abused.

An official of the airline said the unions shut down their operations. The passengers said the airline did not tell them there was a strike and described Arik Air’s silence on the development as insensitive, when they met empty counters at the departure hall.

The passengers, who were angry that they were not informed about the development, said they had bought tickets from other airlines to travel.

NUATE’s Secretary General Ocheme Aba said the union took the action when the airline management did not accede to their demands.

“First of all, these decisions were taken unilaterally. Based on labour practice, every decision that would affect, in terms of payment of the workers, has to be negotiated. There has to be a collective bargaining agreement. That’s the labour practice. Yet, they didn’t even keep to that promise,” he said.

It was learnt on Monday that the Director General of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has waded into the matter. A meeting, it is understood, has been scheduled for today (Tuesday) between the unions and Arik management.

Also, Arik Air management on Monday apologized to passengers whose travel plans were disrupted by some aggrieved workers. It described the unions’ action as illegal.

Arik Air’s spokesman Adebanji Ola said: “We wish to place on record that the picketing was illegal and has no backing of the aviation unions whose leadership has embraced dialogue by attending mediatory meetings called for Tuesday, September 15, 2020 (today) by the NCAA.

“The management strongly condemns this action and once again assures all stakeholders of a safe and conducive working environment. We shall also protect the interest of the flying public for a safe, friendly and on time travelling experience.

“We are already working with the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Ministry of Aviation and the NCAA to resolve all pending issues with the unions and a section of the workers. “Customers with valid tickets who could not fly on Monday can modify such tickets at no cost for future travels. We are working to bring the situation under control and the public will be advised accordingly.”

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