Since the Federal Government shifted the re-opening of some airports by two weeks, there have been indications that the once vibrant sector may further plunge into a deep crisis soon.
The sector, according to some local airline workers and stakeholders, is currently grappling with several problems, ranging from coronavirus pandemic, depleted funds due to the international lockdown, and looming job loss, among others.
The staff of most of the local airlines in Nigeria are going through bad times; some of them have even described the month as Black April. While few are going to be paid half of their salaries, some have been told not to expect salaries at the end of the month, and others could lose their jobs.
In separate interviews, some staff of Air Peace, Arik Air, and Dana Air lamented over fears of losing their jobs, or their monthly earnings, as they have been either told not to expect full salaries, or any salary at all by the end of the ‘Black April’.
In the case of Arik Air, which was acquired by the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria, findings by Nairametrics revealed that the management has informed about 1,800 workers that it can only pay them half of their salaries.
A manager in the airline, who prefers anonymity, told Nairametrics that the management had told all workers across the nation that it would only pay half of the workers’ salaries for obvious reasons.
He said, “It was so sad when we were informed, but I think our case is still better than our colleagues in smaller airlines that were told not to expect salaries at the end of the month. Nobody planned for what happened and we have no other choice but to re-strategise in order to make ends meet.”
That is not all. The source also disclosed that the workers would be in for another shocker in a few weeks from now. “Being paid 50% of our salaries is not really a big deal, but the plan of the airline is to right-size the workforce. Information I got from Lagos confirmed that about 50% of the workforce may be forced to resign and that is more devastating than slashing salaries by 50% due to lockdown,” he added.
Mixed feelings trailed the case of Dana Air. While there are no signs of job losses, its about 700 workers are not happy. When the management of the airline paid them half salaries in March, a lot of them were hopeful that the situation would improve by April.But their hopes were dashed when they were informed by the same management that the airline would not be able to pay the April salaries, except the situation changed.
“A lot of us were happy even when we were paid half salaries, but became sad when we heard we should not expect anything in April. How are we going to cope? We have families to cater for. We could not buy much food before and during the lockdown because there is no money,” one of the staff of Dana, who prefers anonymity, told Nairametrics.
The over 2,000 workers of Air Peace Airline are not isolated from the heat in the industry, which could be attributed to COVID-19. “We have been informed not to expect salaries in April for obvious reasons. Since, COVID-19 locked the industry, it has shut our industry and it is really affecting the workers. We have children and wives to cater for and without money, we are handicapped. We urge the Federal Government to come to the rescue of the airlines,” she said.
Manager, Media/Communications, Dana Airlines Limited, Kingsley Ezenwa, told Nairametrics that the airline has paid workers their March salaries, but the agitation was for the April salary.
According to him, the development is a global trend and the airline is not isolated. He added that before the lockdown, it was difficult for local airlines to survive, as most of them were barely flying 40 passengers to other cities.
He said, “Dana is doing everything possible to ensure its staff’s interests are taken care of. This is an airline that has not asked everyone to go home, looking for ways to survive the trying times. It is a difficult time for everybody. We were still battling with multiple taxes before COVID-19 came, and we will do everything possible to take care of our staff.
“We understand what our staff are going through. If anybody is paying for April, well and good, but if anyone is not paying April, we need to understand too because it is very difficult for airlines now. We are going to do a note to all staff to educate them further on the development.”
While most of the airlines have not reportedly decided whether to pay their workers during the crisis or not, Azman Air was said to have issued a circular to all its workers to go on compulsory leave without pay.
The memo on compulsory leave without pay by Azman Air Services Limited, issued on March 25, was signed by the General Manager, Alhaji Lawan Suleiman.
It read in part, “As you are aware, the current happenings worldwide regarding the COVID-19 issue, particularly in Nigeria, where it persists on every basis and the protective measures being taken by almost all work environments, including government and private organisations, management deems it imperative to suspend operation generally.
“This is with a view to protecting both passengers and staff from the impact of the phenomena. In view of the above, Azman Air management informs all staff that effective midnight March 27 it will suspend and shut down operation for two weeks to resume work on April 11. It is to be noted also that all night guards are exempted from the suspension of operation, therefore, remain on duty to ensure the safety of our aircraft.
“Management regrets this action is taken, which is beyond its control. All workers’ March salaries will be paid on or before the effective date and require them to be on the alert to resume duty as soon as the phenomenon subsides or is controlled.”
In all, since the lockdown, no fewer than 76 planes have been parked across airports in Nigeria by the eight local carriers. Also, over 6,000 airline workers have been rendered redundant, with a few airlines sending their workers on compulsory leave due to the suspension of their operations. How long this will last, depends on how early Nigeria can kick COVID-19 out of its shores.