COVID-19 and the Impact on Aviation Sector Employees

Nigerian employees have been under the edge of the sword since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The reprehensible effects of the pandemic on employment include job loss, wage cut, freeze in promotion, pause in external and graduate recruitment, and some behavioural changes of employees. At the minimum, more than half of Nigerian employees, at the beginning of the pandemic feared that they may lose their job. This resulted in job loss panic, which pushed employees to work overtime to impress superiors and act in certain ways to be on the good side of employers. These are some of the behavioural changes.

Certainly, the job safety of Nigerian employees varied across the economic sectors. This is because some sectors were already resilient to global shocks due to enmeshed innovation and others were positioned to address the novel challenges the global pandemic projected. In the former case were employees in the information and communications sector and the latter, employees in the health sector. One of the sectors worst affected by the pandemic is the aviation sector.

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The aviation sector was buoyant before the pandemic like other sectors. Due to the uptick in the volume of air passengers, airlines with state-of-the-art air fleet recorded high-rise revenues. Air Peace was one of those airlines in this category. With the pandemic in vogue and the subsequent lockdown of the aviation sector, most airlines (both domestic and multinationals) had to suspend operations and their staffs directed to take compulsory leave with little or no pay. This is a trying time for employees in the aviation sector – a sector largely influenced by air passenger income, companies’ financial performance and the ease of mobility of people and goods across domestic and international borders.

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On 3rd August 2020, the management of Air Peace resolved to lay off 69 of its pilots. They also downsized other staff categories and explained that they would be restructuring their operations. According to the company spokesperson, the development is related to the worsening economic situation in Nigeria caused by the pandemic. Furthermore, Air Peace slashed salaries of retained workers by 0-40% depending on the job cadre. Apart from Air Peace, other airlines have suffered the same fate. For instance, Virgin Atlantic, a British airline, filed for bankruptcy in August 2020 to cut losses, despite laying off over 3000 staffs.

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What should airlines do to secure the jobs of their employees? First, without earning enough, airlines cannot save the jobs of their employees. It is therefore pertinent that domestic airlines collaborate and seek bailout funds from the government to avert further job loss. Also, instead of sacking employees outrightly, airline companies can direct employees to take unpaid leave for an extended period and recall them when the sector picks up. Airlines can also collaborate to share resources that were otherwise individually utilized to reduce the overall cost of operation. This cost-saving can be redirected to save jobs.

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At a time like this, senior executives in airline companies can give up their extra earnings like an end-of-year bonus, monetized share appreciation and salary increase to save the jobs of junior employees. Finally, employee engagement is very essential in adopting policies to save jobs. Airlines should administer open-ended questionnaires and opinion polls to get employees thought on how their jobs can be saved considering the shrinkage in revenue of the airline companies.

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