There is an indication that Nigeria’s carrier, Aero Contractors, is planning to cut down its workforce by 40 per cent.
The 63-year-old airline is currently harbouring over 700 direct aviation jobs, even as it is under the receivership of the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON).
However, two major aviation unions, the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) and the Air Transport Senior Staff Services Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) have kicked against the proposed downsizing of the carrier’s staff strength, arguing that the aviation company is yet to complete the redundancy payment of those it asked to stay home since 2016.
The unions appealed to the National Assembly, Ministers of Aviation, Labour and Employment to initiate an intervention that could save Aero Contractors and Arik Air, as well as workers.
According to the unions, reports claiming that Aero’s aircrafts are too old to fly are unjustifiable and made to compel the airline out of existence as the airline has an MRO subsidiary.
The unions alleged ulterior motives by some hidden forces, who they said had engineered a phoney lease contract with one House of 5A’s where the airline operated the lease at a total loss, whereby they had an arrangement that allowed them to have only three seats in a 180-seater aircraft at N35,000 each, no matter the category of fare charged.
Speaking at a forum organised by the unions, the General Secretary of NUATE Comrade Ocheme Aba, said, “Specifically, we call for a probe of the circumstances surrounding the rumored sale of one or both of the airlines to the promoters of 5A’s for cheap after the airlines must have been forced to the ground by an artificially created financial crumbling.
“We also call for a strong and deeply reflective interface between the Ministry of Aviation and AMCON and the legacy shareholders of Aero Contractors and Arik Air for the purpose of knocking out a deal that could truly rejuvenate the airlines, one way or another, and resolve the legacy owners’ imbroglio once and for all.
“We call for a complete stop to further attempts to truncate genuine revamping efforts at keeping these airlines on the path of recovery. Specifically, we call for a halt to further attempts through House of 5A’s to force any phony lease contracts down the throat of Aero Contractors and Arik Air.
“We equally make a passionate appeal to AMCON not to allow any form of weariness to stand in the way of efforts to achieve the plan of turning around the fortunes of the two airlines. We wish to share with AMCON our unshaken belief that the task can, and must, be done. It requires, though, that all hands must be on deck and working harmoniously. To this effort, we pledge our cooperation and collaboration.”
In its reaction, the management of Aero Contractors described all the allegations made by the unions against it as wild and unfounded.
The airline maintained that it is pure mischief that when things are rosy the unions keep quiet, but when challenges occur they quickly run around with wild claims and threats.
The airline wondered why its staff, knowing the challenges facing airlines in the current operating environment, are always in a haste to compromise confidential information to the public and make it an issue for discussion.
“All the allegations about the Managing Director of House of 5A’s and Charles Arumemi Johnson are unfounded. Charles is a very competent staff of Arik Air owned by AMCON, which equally owns Aero Contractors; therefore there is no conflict of interest. He is instrumental to the recently launched Aero portal which has given the site a face lift and made it more user friendly, compared to the previous website.
“On the House of 5A’s, every partnership was done with the aim of improving the revenues of the airline, particularly in relation to our unserviceable equipment and ensuring standard customer service. The question is what was our revenue before, during and after the exit of House of 5As? They should please respond.
“It also emphasised that the Aero management is conscious of the challenges we are facing and have been prudent with our expenses, and doing our best to take care of staff welfare.”
Explaining further, Aero added that the current management decided to create the four Strategic Business Units (SBUs): Maintenance Repair Overhaul (MRO), Aviation Training Organisation (ATO), Airline Operation and Rotary Wing, to enhance efficiency and profitability.
“There is no Nigerian carrier without debt overhang caused by the operating environment. And all major airlines in the world have had similar challenges, but took strategic measures to turn around the airlines. It is unfortunate that the airline industry operates on thin margins and airlines are always making efforts to be leaner and smarter to stay afloat.
“Whatever management decisions are taken are usually done with the engagement of the unions. It is at the instance of the unions the Chief Executive Officer called for a Town Hall meeting last week. We believe that as the revenues begin to improve over the next few months, following strategic engagements with potential partners, the airline’s fortune will improve,” the airline added.
AMCON had in 2016, dissolved the Board of Aero Contractors Airlines and appointed a Manager to oversee the daily affairs of the airline. With that, AMCON became both the majority shareholder and creditor of Aero.
The intervention of the debt management company was expected to protect the brand heritage of the airline and also protect the public interest to sustain and improve the robust and premium quality service, which the airline has been known for over the years.