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AIR RAGE BY WOLE SHADARE
As I scanned through the domestic wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport last week, I felt the impact of the chaos gripping the aviation industry on a personal level as to the reason aviation labour unions see the sector as a soft target to compel employers and the government to listen to their demands by unilaterally shutting down the aviation industry.
The industry has witnessed numerous demonstrations by labour unions that have left the sector prostrate and one that threatens the entire aviation value chain.
It is no longer fashionable to begin to call out workers on strike by inflicting untold hardship on passengers and investors who on many occasions had been caught in the crossfire that had ensued between employers with labour on one hand and another involving them and government.
The unions in the aviation industry had embarked 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.
There have been more than ten devastating strikes by 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. Virtually all the airlines, airport operators, service providers, and investors had at many fora criticized the actions of the unions that many consider not to be in tandem with the new reality of industrial actions.
There are indications that the industry may have lost about N25 billion in the past five years to impromptu industrial actions that are not only avoidable but ‘senseless’.
The most senseless of the picketing of the sector was the one embarked upon by members of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) last week Wednesday which disrupted all flights to Owerri and across Nigerian airports. Many of the airlines expressed sadness over the actions of the unions, describing it as irresponsible.
The NLC and TUC took the action to ground activities in the sector hinging their action on the allegation that the Workers Day rally was disrupted by thugs alleged to be agents of the Imo state government on May 1. Their grouse with the Imo State Government had no relationship with aviation. It was ill-advised. It was impunity carried too far and unbecoming of labour unions.
An angry Managing Director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Capt. Rabiu Yadudu carpeted the action that paralysed the sector last week.
He described aviation in Nigeria as an essential service and one that has no room for picketing or blocking services because of its importance to over 100 million Nigerians that enjoy the service.
His words, “They should not come and massage their ego in an airport that is already prohibited by law to come and picket. They created illegality and undermined our interests. People all over the world saw it and I think it is bad and unacceptable. We are not going to tolerate it”.
“We have written a strong letter to the minister of aviation calling on the government to directly protect aviation from NLC and their similar actions. They are so many other avenues to seek redress in Nigeria. This is not the 1970s. Nigeria has evolved, aviation has evolved and everything else has evolved. NLC needs to evolve its processes and its ways and means of getting what they want. There is no room for it in modern society.
“Any organisation that feels the only way they can get what they need is by making sure others don’t get what they already have then you don’t deserve picketing. Personally, we will fight it. Aviation will fight it. We have handlers, pilots, and airlines taking care of this thing and suddenly someone wants to come and massage his ego on aviation. It is acceptable.