ASCSN, TUC caution government against anti-labour laws in aviation sector
The Federal Government has been cautioned against the move to gag unionism in the aviation sector.
This comes against the backdrop of a law being proposed to bar workers in the aviation sector from going on strike.
A former President of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Peter Esele, said while he thinks that workers have the right to proceed on strike, he did not think they have the right to destroy national assets during the strike, saying there must be a distinction between pure economic sabotage and labour rights.
His explanation: “I think strikes persist because the government often act very late in responding to strike notices. When the government finally reacts, it sends junior staffers to negotiate and, in most cases, the staffers cannot take decisions at the implementation stage. So, when agreements are reached it becomes very difficult to implement because there is no sync between those that can take decisions and those that negotiate.”
Esele noted that strikes are apprehended in the oil and gas industry, especially in the upstream sector because negotiations are always done by those that can take decisions, saying this is why Nigeria does not experience production shut-ins.
“Whenever there are issues, everybody from the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited to government agencies and sometimes even Ministers join in the negotiation. This makes the implementation process very easy,” he explained.
Esele urged the Federal Government to develop an ‘emergency response workforce’ in essential sectors to fill in the gaps whenever workers in such sectors embark on industrial action.
“When Ronald Reagan was the President of the United States, aviation workers went on strike and the President drafted Air Force officials to fly the planes. That ensured there were no disruptions in the aviation sector. In the military, there is no profession that is not there.
They can serve as emergencies when there is a national strike. Government should explore such an option,” he added.
Relatedly, the President, the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), Dr Tommy Okon, said he endorsed the position of the NLC against criminalising strikes in the aviation sector.
He said: “Honestly, it is unfortunate for any government to contemplate arm-twisting her employees to deny the right to strike, which is the last resort and fundamental rights of the workers in line with International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions 87 and 98, which are amongst the eight core ILO Conventions which Nigeria has ratified and domesticated.”
He warned that the step could be counter-productive, and a time bomb for more industrial unrest in the sector, adding, “you cannot make any law that prohibits a strike and expect that there will be no strike. Whatever the intention of the government in smuggling in those clauses in the bill is in bad faith. Even if the government is driven by the ongoing ASUU strike which the minister of labour and employment has just referred to NIC, it should be noted that the strike was borne out of the government’s inability to keep to the tenets of the collective bargaining agreement. No matter what strategies are adopted by the government to stop workers from exercising their fundamental rights, these can only suffice when the government honours its part of the collective bargaining agreement.”
In his reaction, the Chief Executive Officer of Dairy Hills Limited, Kelvin Emmanuel, said the bill indeed followed precedence from the actions of the Nigerian Union of Electricity Employees where the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) controls switch stations in all 10 locations were switched off without warning to the Genco back-feeds and Distribution Companies, and in contravention of sections 36, subsections 1, Schedule A of the trade union act, that outlines a laid down procedure for the resolution of industrial disputes between union workers and government, as well as union workers and the private sector.
He explained: “Standing on established judicial precedence from a case between Aero Contractors of Nigeria Limited Vs NAAPE, ATSSSAN, NUATE from February 4, 2014, in which Aero Contractors was awarded N20 million in damages, for down tooling and barricading the premises of their employer without recourse to laid down procedure, brings into force the importance of labour unions following established lay down procedures as outlined in the essential services act governing activities of trade unions in Nigeria.”
However, Emmanuel was quick to add that the Minister of Aviation should not be given the power in the amended draft passed to the President for assent, with clauses that were not presented for scrutiny at the public hearing, adding that the Minister should not have the authority to proscribe or ban labour unions from mobilizing for their industrial rights in line with international labour convention rules, but that the amended act needs to include articles for enforcement of the trade union act.
He emphasised the importance of labour unions using the National Industrial Court and alternative dispute resolution as a vehicle for resolving the dispute, and also placed strict penalties for the unions threatening national security by shutting down state infrastructure as a means of protest against perceived industrial injustice.