Strike: NAHCO workers liable for breaching FAAN Act
•FG vows never to allow union protests, disruptions at airports
Recent strikes by protesting workers of Nigerian Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO Aviance) and attendant disruption of flight operations have been held in breach of extant laws of the aviation industry.
Consequently, probabilities are emerging that both the company and protesting unions may now be liable for damages incurred on account of industrial action around airports.
For the 15 hours that NAHCO ground handlers embarked on strike nationwide on Monday, more than 60 per cent of local and international flights were affected. While domestic carriers were grounded, their foreign counterparts either returned to base or diverted to neighbouring countries. Nigerian flag carrier, Air Peace, estimated N500 million worth of loss.
Statutorily, the new Federal Airports Authority Act 2022 has designated aviation as an essential service and, therefore, immune from disruptive industrial actions.
The Act, which was assented into law in December 2022, states thus: “All services which facilitate and maintain the smooth, orderly and safe take-off, flight and landing of aircraft, embarkation and disembarkation and evacuation of passengers and cargo respectively in all aerodromes in Nigeria are hereby designated as essential services pursuant to the provisions of Section 11(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as altered).
“The minister may, by regulations, prohibit all or such class or classes of workers, officers and other employees or persons, whether corporate or natural, engaged in the provision of services specified in subsection (1) of this section from taking part in a strike or other industrial action.
“The provisions of the Trade Disputes (Essential Services) Act, Cap. T9, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 shall apply to service in the agency, facilities managed by the agency and in the implementation of this bill. There shall be no strikes, lock-outs, pickets, blockades, service disruptions, etc. of any kind within all facilities managed by the agency and where any labour dispute arises, such dispute shall be resolved by the agency.”
Apparently in tune with the provisions, Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, vowed that the Federal Government would never permit such disruptions again. Sirika said: “First, we apologise to our teeming passengers in this difficult moment. Secondly, this will not happen in the future by the grace of God. And the reason is simple, aviation is an essential service, the Act has been assented to by Mr. President, so strikes and riots around our airports are prohibited by the laws of the land.
“And now that we have the Act in place, passed by the National Assembly and passed by Mr. President, we will deal with it according to the law. We will ensure no essential service is being disrupted by anybody no matter how aggrieved. There are other channels to address issues when they arise but they are not permitted to go on strike because aviation is an essential service and is by the law of the land now,” Sirika said.
Similar industrial action over welfare and picketing of Murtala Muhammed Airport terminal II (MMA2) in Lagos last November, cost local airline operators over 70 flights across the nationwide network, with attendant losses of revenue.
Managing Director of Aero Contractors, Capt. Ado Sanusi, said it was not out of place to sanction the handling company for embarking on strike without sufficient notice to operators. Sanusi, whose airline rescheduled and cancelled several flights last Monday, called for independent investigation into the massive disruption.
“If NAHCO is found guilty of not issuing a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM), telling the authorities that there was an impending strike in five days, there are ways to sanction them – fine them, make them pay for losses or even suspend their licences. You can equally identify the people responsible and make them accountable. We have to be accountable for our actions,” Sanusi said.
“The lawsuit should go to the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and you can join NAHCO and the rest. There should be an investigation to find out if due process was followed and what the process of engagement is when you want to go on strike, especially when you perform critical services in the industry and any industry for that matter,” Sanusi said. He reckoned that air traffic controllers, handling companies, fire services, among others, are critical and should not go on strike.
“In as much as it is the union’s right to go on strike, they can seal offices and not allow work administratively but not to disrupt flow of traffic. That is dabbling into national security. Imagine a flight with over 300-400 passengers and they cannot land because there is no handling company. Imagine the cost to the airline!” Sanusi said.