One Strike, Too Many at Airports

One Strike, Too Many at Airports

Labour strikes and protests are becoming a recurring decimal in Nigeria’s aviation industry with passengers stranded and many businesses at various airports in the country recording losses on every occasion. Chinedu Eze wonders why neither government nor stakeholders seem to have an idea of how to end this national embarrassment

Flight operations were disrupted on Monday and Tuesday at all the airports in the country because the labour unions embarked on a two-day warning strike in protest against the government’s unwillingness to implement an improved welfare package for the workers of aviation agencies.

The flight disruption was more intense on Monday when the unionists blocked the roads leading to the airport terminals, forcing travellers to trek to the airports, thus causing airlines to delay their flights. But on the second day, they relaxed their blockage and conducted a procession from the domestic terminal to the international terminal at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos. So, flights did not experience delays occasioned by the strike. They also locked out many workers from their offices, as they ensured that work did not take place at the aviation agency offices.

According to the aviation unions, what they did was a prelude to a total shutdown of flight operations and closure of the airspace next week; if the government did not acquiesce to their demand.

Background

Last week, the unions announced that they would embark on strike from April 17 to 18, 2023 over the plan of the federal government to demolish Lagos offices of aviation parastatals and the delay to review workers’ Condition of Service, (CoS) as negotiated between the unions and four aviation agencies seven years ago.

 Other reasons given for the strike action include the non-implementation of minimum wage consequential adjustments and arrears for the Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NiMet) since 2019. In the notice of a two-day warning strike to workers of all aviation agencies and signed by the secretaries-general of the five unions, they insisted that if the warning strike failed, an indefinite strike would ensue.

 The unions include the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN), Association of Nigeria Aviation Professionals (ANAP), National Association of Aircraft Pilots (NAAP) and Engineers and the Amalgamated Union of Public Corporation Civil Service Technical and Recreation Services Employees.  The unions which signed the notice said they had earlier issued a 14-day ultimatum to the Minister of Aviation on February 7, 2023, on the same matter.

 According to the notice, the ultimatum had since expired and nothing tangible had been yielded from their efforts.

 ”Recall our unions issued a 14-day ultimatum to the Honourable Minister of Aviation and specific aviation parastatals on February 7, 2023, over the following demands: non-implementation of minimum wage consequential adjustments and arrears for the Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NiMet)since 2019, refusal of the Salaries, Income & Wages Commission, NSIWC and Office of the Head of Service of the Federation (OHCSF), to release the reviewed Condition of Service (CoS) of Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT) and Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet), as negotiated between our unions and the Agencies, and as duly conveyed by the Federal Ministry of Aviation since upwards of nine years.

 “The ultimatum has since expired and nothing tangible has been yielded from our efforts and that of the Ministry of Aviation. Furthermore, it has become evident that the Minister of Aviation remains adamant in carrying out his threat to demolish the headquarters of FAAN, NAMA, and NCAA in Lagos, despite all our entreaties towards caution. 

 “In view of the foregoing and unless the demands are met, NiMeT consequential adjustment is implemented and the arrears paid, the CoS for NAMA, NCAA, NCAT, and NiMeT is immediately released and the Minister’s demolition exercise is halted, all aviation workers are hereby directed to withdraw all services in the sector on April 17 and 18, 2023 as warning strike. Should the warning strike fail to achieve the desired results, an indefinite strike shall ensue. All workers should comply and all state councils and branch exco members shall enforce this directive without compromise,” the notice said.

Truce 

 Although during the period the strike lasted, the federal government through the Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, and the Director General of NCAA, Captain Musa Nuhu, urged the workers to withdraw from the strike and assured that their request for their welfare would be responded to positively.

 NCAA disclosed that its  Director General conveyed a series of meetings with the union members, starting last Sunday, April 16, 2023, and in subsequent days with the Salary and Wages Commission along with all Aviation Agencies Chief Executive Officers and their Heads of Finance Departments’. 

According to NCAA, the objective of the meeting with the Salaries and Wages Commission was the examination of the various account books of the agencies to determine whether or not the increases in salaries being demanded could be accommodated in their various Internally Generated Revenues (IGRs).

Impact of incessant strikes

 Stakeholders in the industry said 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.

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 to have their way in their self-serving initiatives, embarking on strikes at whim to press for their welfare while they kill organisations that sustain the industry. He was reacting to similar strike action that happened in January this year, when the unions stropped all economic activities at the airports on behalf of workers of the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company Plc (NAHCO) who insisted on salary increase.

“For too long, we have allowed this to happen because the regulatory authority, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) allowed it. I repeatedly said 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’s general operational areas so as not to be disturbing or disrupt other operators,” Ojikutu said.

“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 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 implies 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 a Notice to Air Men (NOTAM), which would circulate the information about the strike to the global aviation industry.

The 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 was 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.

The unions in the aviation industry seem to consider only their interest when embarking on strike and they embark on strikes too frequently this has led to the distrust of the aviation industry by investors and international airlines, many of which at short intervals check the status of Nigeria’s airspace before deploying flights to the country due to frequent strikes and flight disruptions.

One critical issue those in charge of airport management in the country need to know is that airports are so important to national security to allow and tolerate incessant strikes. This is why they always need to be sensitive to issues to timely nip in the bud the challenges before they get out of control.

Related Articles