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Virgin Atlantic’s hostility to Niger

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Since the collapse of the effort of the Federal Government to partner with Virgin Atlantic Airlines to create a national carrier known as Virgin Nigeria, the deteriorating relationship between the British aviator owned by billionaire Richard Branson and Nigeria has hit a new low with the sack of all Nigerian cabin crew from its employ.

The airline, which had earlier on closed its call centre in Lagos reportedly disengaged the Nigerian staff after only three weeks’ notice and without any severance package. The representative of the Airline in Nigeria, Mr John Adebanjo, explained that the measure was part of a routine staff load shedding which affected 2,000 jobs, pointing out that staff layoffs are not peculiar to his company. The company’s marketing and communications manager, Kudirat Scot-Igbene, said bluntly that the local staff had to go because the company no longer had any need for them.

However, industrial unions within the Nigerian aviation industry – Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) and National Union of Air transport Employees (NUATE) have vowed to fight Virgin over what they described as “acts of racism”. The unions accused the company of not having a “workable” condition of service for its Nigerian staff and discriminating against Blacks (Nigerians) aboard its flights.

The time has come for the aviation industry regulator to wake up from its slumber and find out what is really going on with a view to fixing it. While we acknowledge Virgin Atlantic or any other private company’s right to hire and fire its staff to maintain its operations, we cannot see any reasonable excuse for the termination of the employment of all Nigerian staff members of any foreign company operating in Nigeria.

We recall the grouse that the founder of Virgin Atlantic, Branson, had in 2012 when, after bitterly complaining about how corruption led him to pull out of the partnership with Nigeria, he vowed, in a publicly circulated statement: “Nigeria is a country we SHALL NEVER consider to doing business again”.

In spite of this disclaimer, Virgin Atlantic continues to operate lucrative flights on its Lagos-London route, thus living off the fat of our country without, feeling any obligation to give back. This we find unacceptable.

We hope the federal government’s regulatory agencies will bring the company and the unions to a round table to ensure that the right things are done and Virgin is made to fully discharge its corporate obligations to Nigerians.

Otherwise, we will support any lawful and peaceful step taken by the unions to assert the rights of Nigerians, even if it means denying Virgin Atlantic the freedom to operate within the nation’s airspace or the use of her facilities.

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