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Virgin Atlantic Airways may just be facing its toughest test ever since it began its operations in Nigeria as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief F.O. Fagbohungbe has fired the company a letter requesting that it rescinds its decision to sack its Nigerian Cabin Crew or face court action.

In the letter titled “Re: Notice of Disengagement of Nigerian Cabin Crew” which was made available to The Boss, the Lawyer is protesting  the service of notices of termination of the employment of the Nigerian crew members through Virgin’s Agent, Aviation Logistics and Management Limited.

The letter which was copied to Sir Richard Branson, Chairman, Virgin Atlantic Airways, The Hon. Minister of Aviation, The Hon. Minister of Transport, Hon. Chairman, Senate Committee on Aviation, Chief John Adebanjo , MD/CEO, Aviation Logistics and Management Limited and  Mr. Alasdair Boyle, International Cabin Crew Manager, Virgin Atlantic reads:

“We are Solicitors to members of Staff of Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd.  who constitute the “Nigerian Cabin Crew”  and hereby write you on their instructions to protest the service of termination of their employment….”

“Based on the circumstances relating to the intended termination of our Clients’ employment as relayed to us, we are satisfied that the notices are totally unjustifiable and constitute a gross violation of the relevant Articles of the International Labour Conference Convention 158: The Convention Concerning Termination Of Employment At The Initiative Of The Employer”, and international best practices to say the least.

” We are aware that Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd (“Virgin Atlantic”) has no basis or valid reason for the termination of the employment of our clients who have worked assiduously over the years to ensure the growth and  success of Virgin Atlantic right from the commencement of its flight operations in Nigeria.

“Furthermore although, Virgin Atlantic has continued to state that the reason for the notices given to our clients was that the Customer Research has shown that there is no longer  a requirement to provide cultural expertise and there is a need to reduce the complexity of its operations, those reasons are best spurious; as no Customer Research Survey was ever conducted to the knowledge of our clients.

“Having regard to the peculiar circumstances of the intended termination of our client’s employment with Virgin Atlantic, it is reasonable to come to the conclusion that the same was based on bias and predicated on our clients’ race, colour, national extraction and social origin. These, as you well know, constitute an unfair labour practice, especially as the contracts are for a fixed period of time and will not come to an end till February 2016.

“There is also no gainsaying that your action is based on discrimination against our client and contrary to relevant Provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, Universal Declaration of Human Rights and African Charter of Human Rights and Peoples Rights to the effect that every individual shall be entitled to the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Charter without distinction of any kind, such as race, ethnic group, colour, sex, language, religion,, political , national, or any other opinion, national, or social origin,, fortune, birth or status. We are of the view that your actions are arbitrary and very unconscionable.

“It is unfair to Nigeria in general and our clients in particular that after Virgin has made substantial profit from Nigeria to fund the employment of its foreign staff and operations, it will deliberately take actions that will unnecessarily increase the unemployment rate in Nigeria.

“Our Clients have informed us that the Lagos-London-Lagos route for which they were basically employed remains one of the most commercially viable routes for Virgin Atlantic, if not the most viable and profitable in the world.

“To this extent, Virgin Atlantic cannot hide under the guise that the route is no longer commercially viable to warrant the retention of our Clients in their employment. In fact this was the basis of the comment of the Spokesperson of Virgin Atlantic, Mrs. Kudirat Scott-Igbene who stated at various fora that that the termination of the Nigerian Crew has no impact on the  flying programme of Virgin Atlantic and that it plans to continue the flights between Lagos and London and the commitment of Virgin Atlantic to  servicing Nigerian people whether it be for business, family or education”

The Lawyer further stated that the Nigerian crew were not given the kind of options given to their colleagues on other less viable routes-and he was probably referring to a letter by Jill Brady, Virgin Atlantic’s Executive Vice President to the Cabin Crew where it was indicated that Crew members for Shanghai, Hong Kong and Delhi will keep their jobs. And those in UK offered various options to prevent job losses.

According to Brady ” Earlier this year I announced that as part of our fit.nimble change programme, Cabin Crew would be one of the areas we would look at in more detail.

“We have been looking at how we are organised in terms of our crew ranks, crew complement and onboard services as we consider how to improve outcomes for our customers whilst creating a financially resilient company that can achieve sustainable growth for the future.  Whilst trial flights will continue throughout November to test proposed new service flows and product offerings, no decision has yet been made regarding crew complement. However, I have briefed our Cabin Crew team today on some decisions that we have made on crew ranks and our international bases.

“When reviewing our structure and cost base, it became apparent that we have more crew ranks than many other airlines. Having four distinct ranks, rather than three or fewer, was an example of where we have additional layers and complexity within our organisation.

“We have therefore decided to simplify our rank structure by having one rank of Cabin Crew who will work across all cabins, and, as a result, from 31 March 2016 we will no longer have a Senior Cabin Crew (SCC) role.

“To mitigate job losses in the UK we have offered all our UK SCCs a number of options, including an alternative role as full time or part time Cabin Crew, and we have roles for everyone who chooses this option.

“During our review it became apparent that we carry more On Board Managers (OBMs) than many other airlines. When reviewing the number of OBMs that we have we took into consideration different aircraft types and configurations, as we understand that aircraft with higher customer numbers mean increased ad hoc customer requests and increased supervisory requirements. We have taken the decision to streamline our OBM structure by making the following changes, which reflect our changing fleet. These will take effect from 31 March 2016:

On all B787 and A330 aircraft operating with one Cabin Service Supervisor (CSS), this position will be manned by a UK based CSS. Whilst these changes mean that there will be no required job losses in the UK CSS rank, there will unfortunately be an impact on our internationally based CSSs.

Further, following a careful review our customer service offering, we have decided that from 31 March 2016 we will be reducing the complement of international cabin crew on flights to Shanghai, Hong Kong and Delhi to two crewmembers.

This decision, alongside the removal of the SCC role, smaller B787 and A330 aircraft now making up the majority of our fleet and our decision to operate these aircraft using a UK based CSS means that there will no longer be a business requirement for CSSs and SCCs in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Delhi from 31 March 2016. Notwithstanding the decisions in relation to CSSs and SCCs, we recognise that our customers still require language expertise on these routes and the international Cabin Crew rank for Shanghai, Hong Kong and Delhi will therefore remain unaffected.

” The primary purpose of our Lagos 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. As a result, and to reduce complexity in our operation, we have decided to close our Lagos crew base from 30 November 2015.” Therefore, it was only the Nigerian Cabin Crew that had to lose their jobs as a result of this exercise according to the letter.

Mr. Fogbohungbe, SAN continued ” There is no gainsaying the fact that our clients have been treated unfairly based on their race and dislike for them as Nigerians. Virgin Atlantic ‘s dislike for Nigerians is further confirmed by the airline’s closure of its call centre in Nigeria which necessitated the routing of calls by Nigerian passengers in respect of their flight bookings through South Africa, this also caused unemployment in Nigeria while creating additional jobs in South Africa.

In the same vein, although the monies used to pay the staff in South Africa is generated in Nigeria, routing calls through South Africa was an additional cost which was deliberately imposed on Nigerian passengers by Virgin Atlantic without due regard for the pain and agony Nigerian Passengers may suffer. The decision to terminate the employment of our Client is another classical example of the disdain and utter disregard for the feelings of Nigerians by Virgin Atlantic and our clients have decided to resist this oppressive conduct”

The Lawyer noted that since there is no commercial or any valid reason for the termination, therefore, Virgin Atlantic, through its agents, ALML should withdraw the notice within seven days or face legal action.

Interestingly, in their termination letter dated November 3, 2015 and signed by Chief John Adebanjo, the Nigerian Cabin Crew apart from various allowances and payments, were promised “trainings on CV Writing and Competency based interview workshop”, this, according to them, is an indication that management had already planned their termination months ahead and not as a result of any customer research.

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