Unions seek aviation sector overhaul

 

 

Aviation unions have called for total overhauling of the aviation industry in Nigeria, warning that if the Federal Government fails to carry out the restructuring exercise now, the sector may eventually collapse.

This is as the unions threatened to ground activities at the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMET) from Monday, August 18, 2020, over what it called fake “Condition of Service” by the management of the agency.

Speaking on Wednesday at a joint media briefing organised by the leaderships of National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) and the Association of Nigeria Aviation Professionals (ANAP), in Lagos, the unions alleged that the Ministry of Aviation has in recent years has been running the industry especially the agencies illegally.

Ocheme Aba, General Secretary, NUATE, who spoke on behalf of the others, accused organisations especially the airline operators and agencies’ Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of abandoning workers at this critical time of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Aba specifically said that the negotiated CoS for their members in the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority(NCAA) and NiMET were unattended to by the Salaries and Wages Commission and Office of the Service of the Federation for about seven years.

The unions said that all efforts, including a personal visit by Hadi Sirika, the Minister of Aviation to the commission and numerous communications between the agencies and the commission have proved abortive.

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The unions further condemned the forced relocation of aviation agencies headquarters to Abuja by Sirika as another poor initiative by the government, especially at a period when COVID-19 had disrupted the entire world’s economies, including the country’s aviation industry.

 

Aviation union leaders at a press conference at Lagos airport

They wondered why Sirika insisted on the relocation of the agencies’ headquarters out of Lagos to Abuja when most of them were yet to have office buildings, while there was no provision for such movement in the 2020 budgetary allocations to the agencies.

They lamented that most of the relocated staff sleep in offices, while many others share offices with other government agencies.

They added: “While submitting to the government the right to determine the appropriate location of its agencies, we have however pointed out to the government the need to be circumspect in pursuing this particular objective at this particular time. We pointed out the present crisis of COVID-19, the absence of budgetary provision for most, if not all the agencies in the current budget cycle.

 “We also pointed out 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.

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“But, now the vexing issue of refusal of the various managements to engage with us on the labour implications of the relocation has become a new crisis point. The only exception to this is FAAN. We have a responsibility to the workers of these agencies to insist that their genuine rights and interests with regard to relocation are adequately protected.  No one should expect that our Unions will shirk that responsibility.”

Besides, the unions expressed its readiness to embark on an indefinite industrial action against NiMET from Monday next week following what it called “fake CoS approval” and punitive transfer of union executive members.

The letter dated August 11, 2020, signed by Aba and Abdulrasaq Saidu, the General Secretary of ANAP and made available to our correspondent said that before it decided to embark strike, it initially issued the management of NiMET 14 days ultimatum to ameliorate sundry long-standing issues, but the management failed to respond to any of the demands.

“Our unions, NUATE and ANAP hereby direct all workers of iMET to commence total withdrawal of services indefinitely with effect from August 18, 2020 until otherwise decided by our leaderships”.

“In respect of the above, we enjoin all workers in all stations nationwide to give total support and comply with this directive, and note that only instructions emanating from our secretariats are valid. Every other instruction or directive should be disregarded.”

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Besides, the unions asked for quick release of intervention funds to the industry by the government, warning that failure to do so now may lead to permanent death for most aviation organisations, including the airlines.

They recalled that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) recently approved N2.3 trillion intervention fund to assist businesses cope with the economic devastation occasioned by the pandemic, but regretted that up till now, aviation was yet to be impacted by these interventions despite the industry being the most negatively impacted by COVID-19.

They added: “Importantly also, the more than 80 per cent of the aviation workforce in the private sector who have been on furlough for the past four months remain in penury while another chunk of workers have been coping with half or less salary within the period. Yet these same workers are expected to return to work and continue to work on empty stomachs until the companies are able to pay salaries.”

To address most of the ills in the industry, the unions threatened to ground the entire aviation industry in the next two weeks, starting from Wednesday.

Wole Shadare