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Stakeholders Trace Avoidable Financial Losses in Aviation Sector to Labour Strikes
Stakeholders in the aviation industry have stated that the greatest disincentive to investment in the aviation industry is the activity of labour unions adding that in the last five years the industry has lost about N20 billion to impromptu industrial actions that could have been avoided.
The industry is projected to have lost over N4 billion to the sudden disruption of flight operations to domestic, international and cargo airlines for 14 hours on Monday when the workers of the Nigeria Aviation Handling Company Plc (NAHCO) went on strike without due notification to the airlines.
THISDAY learnt that foreign investors who were discouraged to invest in the aviation industry, cited lack of control of the unions as one of the factors leading to avoidable strikes. It was disclosed that one of the reasons why Spar Supermarket moved out of the Domestic Terminal of the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA2) was constant disruption of its business due to incessant strikes, which affected those businesses that deal with perishables, including the eateries that record huge losses besides the loss of revenues.
Industry expert and the Executive Secretary of Aviation Round Table (ART), Group Captain John Ojikutu, told THISDAY that for too long the industry has allowed the unions have their way in their self-serving initiatives, embarking on strikes to press for their welfare while they kill organisations that sustain the industry.
“For too long, we have allowed this to happen because the regulatory authority, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) allowed it. I repeatedly said it when it happened to Bicourtney at the MMA2 Terminal that labour unions strike should not be conducted to disturb or disrupt other airport users, operators and services providers. If they have to demonstrate against their employers, it must be carried out in the employer’s main offices outside the airport general operational areas so as not to be disturbing or disrupting other operators,” Ojikutu said.
He noted that the main issue between the union and their employer NAHCO, which is about salary increase, needed to be thoroughly looked into.
With the huge losses of revenue of airlines and the inconveniences to passengers, Ojikutu wanted to know who would compensate the airlines and the passengers for the strike that disrupted activities at the airports.
“With the number of delays and cancellations on Monday, who will be responsible for paying the affected passengers and airlines compensation for their losses, NAHCO or NCAA or the passengers should hold the airlines responsible? NCAA should learn a lesson from what happened to its account being garnished in 2006 when an air traffic controller of NAMA (Nigeria Airspace Management Agency) cleared a cargo flight to land on a closed runway at MMIA. It was not the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) or NAMA that paid the money but the NCAA. When I insist that the oversight of any civil aviation function and enforcement of civil aviation regulations is the responsibility of the NCAA, and not the Ministry or the National Assembly, some persons wanted others to believe that I am too overbearing on the NCAA. The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) will hold the NCAA responsible any day on matters of civil aviation in this country and not the NASS nor the Ministry,” he said.
The Managing Director and CEO of Aero Contractors, Captain Ado Sanusi, who was interviewed the following day after the strike on Arise News Channel, the broadcast arm of THISDAY Newspaper, stated that the workers could have embarked on strike, disrupt the activities of NAHCO as a company, picket their offices but should not have extended their strike to withdrawing service for airlines, an action that has implication to the security of the nation and safety threat to flight operations.
He expressed disappointment against the striking workers and NAHCO who did not give airlines prior notice by issuing Notice to Air Men (NOTAM), which would circulate the information about the strike to the global aviation industry.
He called on the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority to investigate those that instigated the strike and take necessary action to forestall such from happening again. He recalled that last year the handling companies demanded that the payment for their services should be increased from N20, 000 per aircraft to N70, 000, an increase that was approved by the NCAA and the airlines acquiesced.
“NCAA should investigate whether the workers followed due process. Did they inform the airlines? NCAA allowed the handling company to have an alliance between the two major companies, SAHCOL and NAHCO that prevents them from assisting airlines that are not under their service. This means that SAHCOL cannot help an airline, which is serviced by NAHCO, no matter the situation. This has led to the creation of a cartel inside a deregulated market because it makes the other company not to come to save the situation and it puts Nigeria on a bad light. Why did they go to that level of disrupting flights? Anybody who interferes with flight operations should be charged because it threatens the security of Nigeria. NCAA should licence other players that wish to join the market,” Sanusi said.
Industry stakeholder who has operated in the sector for several years, told THISDAY that the labour unions in the industry were overreaching their power because people in the industry are afraid to stop their excesses, noting that one of the foreign airlines which flight was disrupted wondered whether the workers did not know that their action was against national security, positing that in other countries such action could not have happened without notifying all concerned in the industry.
He said: “You cannot imagine the losses by airlines, by people who had critical appointments, by the sick who had medical appointments and by students returning to schools overseas who were stranded; just because some workers want improvement in their welfare and decide to implode a critical sector of the economy. The unions are the ones that diminished Arik. They killed Nigeria Airways Limited and when they were warned that their action would destroy Arik Air, they said they didn’t care. This is because they earn check out dues. They don’t really care about any other organization. How can you invest in such environment? What has happened is all over the place in the world. Do you expect a foreign investor to invest in Nigeria’s aviation sector?”
Peeved by that obnoxious action, the federal government had warned that it would not allow a repeat of last Monday’s strike by aviation unions, which grounded activities at key international airports in Abuja and Lagos.
The Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, said this on Wednesday while fielding questions from State House reporters after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The Minister, who apologised to the affected passengers, said that such action was not permitted going by the provisions of FAAN Act.