The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) yesterday, disrupted Air Peace flight operations and stopped the airline from taking off to any destination from its Lagos operational base, claiming to be engaging in an industrial action in Imo state against Governor Hope Uzodimma.
THISDAY investigations did not indicate any interface between Air Peace and NLC before the disruption, but labour sources said the Congress chose to disrupt Air Peace operations so that its strike action in Imo state would have national impact, as Air Peace operates over 80 flights daily.
The management of Air Peace in a statement expressed shock about the disruption of the airline’s services.
The airline in a statement titled, “Deliberate Massive Disruption of Air Peace Operations by NLC and TUC: Air Peace Feels Unprotected,” disclosed that the NLC and TUC officials stormed the Lagos Airport and took over, “our counter, disrupting all our operations because of an alleged misunderstanding they had with Governor Hope Uzodimma of Imo State. They had written us yesterday, saying that no flight should be operated into Owerri today because, as alleged, Governor Uzodimma disrupted their May Day activities few days ago.”
The airline further disclosed, “Air Peace has no affiliation whatsoever with the Imo State government or Governor Uzodimma. Our duty and commitment are to the Nigerian flying public that have paid us. We have a contract with them to deliver. This morning, they carried out a selective attack on Air Peace, took over our counters and disrupted our operations.
“While they were doing this, another Nigerian airline was allowed to operate into and out of Owerri. They took over our counters in Owerri, Abuja and Lagos, disrupting over 110 flights of Air Peace. This particular illegal action of NLC and TUC will lead to over N400 million loss to the airline. It will equally lead to massive disruptions and cancellations of our flights across the country today, and that will snowball into the coming days, too,” the management said.
Air Peace recalled that it was not the first time the NLC or unions would be attacking the airline for issues that have no bearing with the airline.
“There was a time they attacked Air Peace because they were protesting minimum wage with the federal government. While the minimum wage was 18,000 naira then, the minimum wage at Air Peace was even N50,000. “It is more worrisome that the security agencies are watching while an airline that is discharging its duties to the country is being harassed and hounded by miscreants at these airports, and this is not the first time.
“We do not understand why Air Peace and aviation should be selected for this kind of treatment. If they have a grouse against Governor Uzodimma, that should be taken to Imo State. Why are they not stopping road transport workers who are going to Imo State?
“Aviation borders on national security and we have been made a laughing stock in the world. Who is going to pay Air Peace over N400 million lost today and in the coming days?
“We use this opportunity to alert the Nigerian flying public that all our flights will be disrupted today and in the coming days because cancellations will follow. Any flight we fail to operate today due to this illegal occupation of our operations will lead to cancellations in most sunset airports.
“Who is going to take responsibility for this? We feel highly unprotected,” the management of the airline also said.
THISDAY spoke to the Head of Communications of Dana Air, Kinsley Ezenwa who confirmed that the airline’s flight to Owerri or any other destination was not disrupted by NLC and TUC.
Also, Spokesman of United Airlines Nigeria, Achilles Uchegbu confirmed the airline’s operations were not affected too.
The General Secretary of the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Ocheme Aba, told THISDAY that there was plan to stop airlines from operating to Owerri and the airlines were notified, stressing that it was NLC and TUC that were fully in charge of the strike action. According to him, it was the two labour centres that disrupted activities of the airlines.
“We agreed that there would be no flights to Owerri. The airlines were notified. We sent message to Air Peace, United Nigeria Airlines and Green Africa that based on the strike by NLC they should not operate to Owerri and I believe that message was delivered,” he said.
Aba alleged that Air Peace broke the protocol but was ambivalent about how the airline did that, as Green Africa, Dana Air and United Nigeria operated safely to Owerri.
He said Air Peace 7:00 am Abuja-Owerri flight was stopped that 10:00 am flight would also be stopped, but he could not explain why the flights of the airline to other destinations besides Owerri were also stopped.
Officials of other unions: Air Transport Service Senior Staff Association (ATSSSAN), Association of Nigeria Aviation Professionals (ANAP) and National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE) said that they were not involved in the strike action.
Some industry stakeholders who spoke to THISDAY alleged that the disruption could be described as sabotage, adding that the airline was singled out to frustrate its operations.