When Covid-19 broke out late 2019, in Wuhan, China, only few scientists saw the birthing of what has become deadliest pandemic in the last half a century. Millions of people have been infected, and hundreds of thousands killed. The world was literally shutdown by this ravaging pandemic. Global economy is a shadow of itself.
Nations of the world and corporate organizations are counting their losses; both in human fatalities and economic cum political losses. Among the economic sectors affected, aviation industry remains the hardest hit. The sector, being the epicenter of global transportation, was brought to a halt—at least, for three consecutive months. Many airlines grounded their planes, and thousands of jobs put on life support.
Having been able to flatten the curves of infections and fatalities, some countries have started reopening their economies. Life has started returning to aviation industry. Nigeria’s aviation industry just resumed commercial flights on 8th July, 2020, with strict precautionary protocol to ensure safety of passengers and crew members.
There have been threats and rumors of seismic job cuts in the industry owing to the challenges of the pandemic in the global aviation industry. Allen Onyema, chief executive officer of Air Peace, has risen to the occasion to safeguard jobs in the sector. He has been rallying various stakeholders in the entire value chain to prevent what will be the biggest job losses in aviation sector. He has also pleaded with the government to help the industry via palliatives (bailout) and tax reliefs to minimize the effects of the Covid-19 in the sector.
Nigeria’s economy cannot absorb potential job losses in the industry. Drastic actions need to be taken, as being propagated by Onyema. When Nigerian airspace was closed in March, 2020, many airlines, and affiliate companies in the industry put their staff members on leave without pay, with the promise to be recalled once aviation industry came back to life. But these jobs can no longer be guaranteed as a result of prevailing circumstances.
It is worthy of note that Nigeria’s aviation sector suffered excruciating injuries from the three-month lockdown. During this challenging period, over 4.7 million passenger traffic was lost; and over 140,000 jobs endangered. A critical sector of the economy like aviation that contributes about 0.8 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), with potential to be major contributor to the economy.
Apart from overseeing the biggest indigenous airline, Air Peace honcho, Allen Onyema, is not only concerned about making profits for his company and himself—sustaining already existing jobs, and creating more opportunities in the industry have been of utmost importance to him.
He is of the school of thought that preserving jobs should be of priority to all stakeholders at a difficult time like this. Aviation workers should not be made to bear the burden of economic strangulation of Covid-19 alone. Airlines as well need not be left in doldrums. Government needs to provide the necessary catalysts to kick-start the industry once again, to save jobs and businesses from collapsing.
The easiest way out, whenever a company or organization is witnessing economic downturns, is to downsize the workforce. But Onyema thinks differently. He believes that fate of aviation workers should not be thrown under the bus, at any turbulent period.
When company makes huge profits, workers are not usually the major beneficiaries, but why will they always bear the full weight of the losses when the going gets tough? This is the philosophy Allen Onyema is propagating—the ideology behind his current drive to preserve jobs in the sector. But this advocacy will amount to nothing if government and other critical stakeholders do not work out modalities to achieve it.
Federal government can augment the proposed N27 billion palliatives with tax reliefs and waiver for all landing and parking fees, at least for the next six months. Six months suspension of loan repayment, etc., with a caveat that jobs should be secured.
Nigeria’s economy does not have the capacity to absorb impending job losses. This is why I see Onyema’s clarion call to protect aviation jobs from Covid-19 shock as a patriotic duty.
Chidiebere Nwobodo, Abuja