Sometime last year, there were speculations that the British carrier, Virgin Atlantic Airways was going to lay-off some members of its international crew. The airline announced it was undergoing a comprehensive review of its operations following the deep plunge in profits in previous years.
The £51M loss in 2013 resulted in the airline closing some of its Africa and Asia routes, including Ghana. With Delta Airlines buying 49 per cent stake in Virgin in 2013, the highest that is allowed under the European Union Aviation rules, it was clear that the new piper would dictate a different tune.
Thus, Lagos crew members like their counterparts were anxious to know if their job was at risk.
After being reassured by the agency Aviation Logistics Management Limited (ALML) that there was no cause for alarm since there would be consultations before redundancy could be anounced, they continued on their jobs diligently. However, everything changed on November 3 when they became privy to their new employment status.
At a meeting called by the management of ALML and a Virgin Atlantic representative Alasdair Boyle ( International Crew Manager), the crew members in attendance were handed a letter of termination thereby foreclosing any option of dialogue, negotiation or consultation.
The letter stated that the Lagos-based crew members who were employed solely on the grounds of cultural expertise were no longer needed in the airline according to feedback from their customers. The action, they were told, was also in line with the company’s restructuring programme which seeks to cut down additional layers and complexities to reduce cost.
To be sure, the Lagos based crew was not the only ones affected by the new wave of change. VA currently operates from four international base with local based crew: Delhi, Hong-Kong, Shanghai and Lagos- being its most profitable routes. Crew members on these routes were affected as well as the UK crew members.
Speculations were rife last week that the airline may have halted its operations in the country. But the Marketing and Communications Manager, Kudi Scott-Igbene has debunked the claim in a statement. According to her, the airlines “has no plans to pull out of Lagos route, we are committed to continue delivering the experience our customers love whether they are flying for business or leisure.”
She however was quick to justify the company’s decision to relieve the Lagos crew of their duties.
“We have decided that we will no longer have crew based in Lagos. This is by no means a reflection on our Lagos based cabin crew, the primary purpose of our locally based cabin crew has been to provide cultural expertise, and customer feedback has shown us that this is no longer a requirement on the Lagos route. The additional complexity required to operate an international crew base where there are no foreign language requirement means it is no longer sustainable going From her statement, it can be deducted that Nigerians were only hired based on their bilingual skills.
Taking to heart that a country like India which also has English as their formal language, it is worthy to note that VA does not deem the cultural expertise in India irrelevant. In the same letter available on the company’s intranet by the airline’s Executive Vice-President (Customer) Jill Brady, it is stated that the Shanghai, Hong-Kong and Delhi language expertise will be needed, thus they won’t be affected, apart from the reduction of ranks to two crew members.
Nevertheless, the blatant hint of discrimination against its Nigerian staff contained in VA’s restructuring programme can be viewed from the fact that out of all who have been rendered redundant, only the Lagos crew members termination takes effect on November 30 while others have up till March 31, 2016.
The pertinent question raised by many is how can a foreign business operator run a business in Nigeria without her citizens in their employment? This is a big slap on the Nigerian government and people.
In addition, the airline deemed it fit to mitigate against job losses for its UK crew and other international crew members but not Lagos. Instead, they are only entitled to their normal employees dues without any severance pay of any sort.
When Scott-Igbene was asked to comment on this through an email, she provided no answer till press time even when she promised to do so.
If VA really wanted to cut down cost as they have continuously repeated in their official statement, the removal of its 21 Nigerian staff and replacing them with foreign crew members will only incur more overhead costs going by expensive hotel accommodation in Nigeria compared to London. Moreover, the foreign crew members are known to receive a higher allowance than their Nigeria counterparts
One wonders if the genuine interest is to reduce cost or dismiss Nigerians totally. Or how would they explain the recent relocation of the airline Lagos based country manager Justin Bell from a modest apartment in Shonibare Estate to a luxury apartment in the posh Banana Island Estate in Ikoyi?
This arrangement only reeks of double standard and in this peculiar case, the Nigerian, John Adebanjo of ALML who should have played the saviour is actually the Judas.
Will the Nigerian government fold its hands again and watch foreign operators exploit its resources and citizens with impunity? The Lagos route is one of the busiest and most profitable routes of the airways, yet the Nigerian crew is the most disrespected.
Culled from ThisDay