Unions raise alarm over impending implosion, looming crisis in aviation industry

Photo Caption:
L-R: Deputy General Secretary, Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, ATSSSAN, Comrade Frances Akinjole;
Secretary General, National Union of Air Transport Employees, NUATE, Comrade Ocheme Aba;  Secretary General, Association of Nigeria Aviation Professional, Comrade Abdul Rasaq Saidu and Comrade Onyeka Chris of the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC during the the Press Conference in Lagos today, August 12th.

The aviation unions have raised an alarm about an impending implosion and looming crisis in the aviation industry.

In a press conference in Lagos on Wednesday titled, ‘aviation is in a state of emergency’ organised by the National Union of Air Transport Employees, NUATE, Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, ATSSSAN and the Association of Nigeria Aviation Professionals, ANAP, the unions noted that all is not well at the nation’s sky gateways all over the federation.

Speaking during the press conference, the secretary general of NUATE, comrade Ocheme Aba, who was supported by the deputy general  secretary of ATSSSAN, comrade Frances Akinjole and the secretary general of ANAP, comrade Abdul Razaq  Saidu, stated that the COVID-19 conundrum has badly exposed and exacerbated the unhealthy stilt of the industry’s industrial atmosphere built overtime on stealthy activities of government and employers in dealing with labour matters.

Ocheme called on the government and employers in the industry to come to terms with the simmering industrial relations, created largely by absence of genuine engagement and take quick steps towards some form of amelioration.

He noted that the negotiated conditions of Service in the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, NAMA, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, and Nigerian Meteorological Agency, NIMET, have been lying fallow – wholly or partially unattended by either, or both, the Salaries and Wages Commission and Office of the Head of Service of the Federation – for upwards of seven years; within which period there ought to have been about three (3) turnovers of the documents.

On the issue of minimum wage, Ocheme explained that: “the Minimum Wage Act was signed into law and took effect from 1st April, 2019. Workers in the public service have since 2019 been enjoying the benefits of the reviewed wages. But, as we speak, only two of six aviation Agencies have implemented the new wage. All efforts on our part to implement the Act in NAMA, NCAA, FAAN and AIB have proven futile so far”.

On the relocation of headquarters of the agencies to Abuja, Ocheme said the unions have variously protested the order given by the minister of Aviation for the relocation of the headquarters of the agencies from Lagos to Abuja at this time.

“While submitting to government the right to determine the appropriate location of its agencies (though there is ample room for debate on the matter), we have, however, pointed out to government the need to be circumspect in pursuing this particular objective at this particular time. We pointed at the present crisis of COVID-19, the absence of budgetary provision for most, if not all the Agencies in the current budget cycle, the unavailability of office buildings in Abuja, the absence of any real pressure to do so, and other extenuating circumstances which we had hoped would cause a change of strategy to a more pragmatic approach. Unfortunately, our efforts in this regard have been to no avail,” Ocheme said.

On COVID-19 Intervention Fund, he pointed out that up till now, aviation is yet to be impacted by the interventions despite the industry being the most negatively impacted by COVID-19, adding that as a result, all the aviation companies remain in dire economic straits. 

He noted that the unions greater fear lies in the uncertainty that beclouds the modalities for application of the intervention funds.

He warned that the unions are in vehement opposition to the selective concession of four international airports through a process of apparent compromised integrity.

Ocheme stated further that the unions have offered credible alternative approaches as the minister is going on with the exercise in utter disregard to their position.

He observed that inspite of their efforts, and numerous interventions of the Ministry of Labour, most Nigerian airlines have made it impossible for their employees to freely join trade unions of their choice in clear violation of the Constitution of Nigeria and the Labour Act.

He said some of the airlines have made the express instruction that the employee cannot belong to a trade union, condition precedent to employment in their companies, adding that the unions have tolerated this travesty for too long.

He said many aviation concerns have chosen the path of dishonour by hiding behind the pandemic to wreck havoc to their employees.

According to him: “On this wagon are Arik Air, Aero Contractors, Turkish Airlines, Air Peace, Dana Air, Azman Air, Caverton Helicopters, and many others.
In the coming days, these corporate entities will have to contend with the wrath of aviation workers unless they ameliorate their various situations soon enough”. 

He noted that airports are being opened up for operation, but there has not been any engagement with the unions on all the COVID-19 protocols for aviation workplaces in spite of their advocacy on the issues since the advent of the coronavirus pandemic.

He explained further that the principle of tripartism which refers to active collaboration between government, employers and labour which remains the bedrock of industrial relations management in the public sphere has been completely jettisoned in spite of its strident calls to bring it about in the past three months, especially during this pandemic.

According to him, without tripartism, any efforts at industrial harmony is doomed in the sector.

He stated that there is a compelling need for the unions to take decisive actions against the unpardonable assaults on the rights and sensibilities of aviation workers throughout Nigeria.

NUATE scribe said the unions shall be moved to apply its maximum might combined, with the full support of Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC and Trade Union Congress, TUC, in dealing with the nefarious activities by individual aviation companies, agencies and establishments.

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