- Aviation unions embark on strike against Arik Air
Chinedu Eze in Lagos and Dele Ogbodo in Abuja
The Minister of State for Aviation, Mr. Hadi Sirika, monday said the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA) in Abuja would be closed between February and March next year to allow Julius Berger carry out repairs on the damaged runway.
Briefing journalists after an on-the-spot assessment of the runway, he said while the runway would still be put to use during the six months of rehabilitation, the airport would however be shut for six weeks between February and March, when the mid section of the runway would be reconstructed.
According to him, President Muhammadu Buhari had approved the reconstruction work through the emergency procurement procedure for work to commence because of the centrality and importance of Abuja to the general administration of the country.
He admitted that government cannot afford to close down Abuja airport for a long time, even though palliative repairs had been ongoing at the runway in the last three months.
The minister said: “From start to finish of the runway, it will take six months. However we will be using the runway almost throughout the period except for about six weeks when the runway will be closed. That is when we are going to do the mid-section of the runway.”
According to him, government had accepted the design done by the contractor, adding that the runway would last for more than 10 years on completion early next year.
On the six weeks closure of the airport to passenger traffic, he said Abuja bound passengers from any part of the world will use the Kaduna airport as alternative, explaining that robust arrangement had been finalised the with Kaduna State Government to convey the passengers to Abuja.
Sirika said: “It will cost government substantial amount of money but we thought in our wisdom that palliative approach is wrong because three years down, we will come back to do the same repairs therefore we decided to go for the bigger option which is to do structural repairs if the runway which will take about six months to complete.
The minister said the government was not unaware of the pains passengers are currently going through due to the non-availability of aviation fuel and the scarcity of foreign exchange which has also impacted on government finance.
While pleading for understanding, he said consultations were ongoing with oil marketers, the Ministry of Petroleum and Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to resolve the crisis, adding: “Very soon, the country will be out of this, as we cannot be relying on Ghana for aviation fuel.”
On the Bilateral Air Agreement with other countries, he said government had signed BASA with 18 countries that Nigerians frequently visit and do business with.
The MOUs, he said, gives Nigeria the opportunity to operate air services with 18 countries, adding: “With this, we have the freedom to fly and land safely in other air space and this will assist in opening our market.”
While expressing optimism that Nigeria will reap great benefits from Turkey, he said that country had made progress in air transportation being at the centre of Europe and therefore a hub in aviation business, adding that the United States of America operates open skies with Nigeria.
This came as the National Executive Council of National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE), the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) and Air Transport Service Senior Staff Association (ATSSSAN) have directed the commencement of a joint strike at Arik Air with effect from 00:00hrs on December 20, 2016.
A statement signed by the three unions said the strike would continue indefinitely until certain conditions were fully realised.
The unions said the management of Arik Air must allow total unionisation of its employees in compliance with extant labour laws and with respect to the 1999 Constitution.
“The management of Arik Air recalls all sacked employees who has been victimised for their roles in the effort to bring about unionisation in Arik Air. Payment of salary arrears with commitment to pay salaries as at when due henceforth and immediate review of all employee remunerations which have remained the same since inception of Arik Air over 10 years ago,” the unions said.
The unions also want immediate commencement of negotiations of conditions of service to be concluded within four weeks and remittance of pension, tax, and statutory deductions to the appropriate authorities.
“Towards the full realisation of the strike, all aviation workers, in complete solidarity with their enslaved comrades in Arik Air shall withdraw all services being rendered by third parties. The aviation workers will be supported by Nigerian workers from all other sectors throughout Nigeria to underscore the seriousness of the matter at hand,” the unions also said.
The unions also said all ground handling services, security clearance for Arik Air ticket holders, marshaling, aviation fuel supply, air traffic control, safety inspection, etc will be completely withdrawn and all Arik Air employees, aviation workers, and other stakeholders are hereby enjoined to ensure full compliance with this directive please.