Airlines count losses, relocate operations as union shuts down MMA2
• Bi-Courtney flays ‘illegal action’, says sacked 37 workers ‘unproductive’
• FAAN, BASL, unions begin talks
Domestic flight operations were disrupted in Lagos, yesterday, as aviation union members made good their threat to picket Murtala Muhammed Airport Terminal II (MMA2), operated by Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited (BASL).
The action, which began at 2:30 a.m., with cordoning of the two access gates into MMA2, caught airlines unawares, disrupting plans scheduled for the day.
With hordes of passengers stranded and losses in millions already incurred, Azman Air and United Nigeria Airline (UNA), by midday, migrated operations to the nearby General Aviation Terminal (GAT).
The aviation workers’ union, under the aegis of Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN), had issued Bi-Courtney a seven-day ultimatum to reverse the sack of 34 members and three others, or face picketing.
The union had described the mass sack of its members as victimisation of comrades demanding implementation of Condition of Service (CoS).
But the move to shut down the facility hit the airlines and their customers hardest. The Guardian learnt that over 12 flight operations of airlines, like Azman, United, Ibom Air, Max and Air Peace’s Port Harcourt operations, were affected.
A Chief Operating Officer (COO) of one of the airlines said it was most unfortunate that the union took the action without prior notice to operators and the flying public.
He said: “Each of those flights not operated runs into N4 million-plus of services that had been paid for by airlines but not used. Those flights are meant to serve other routes beyond Lagos. So, you can understand the huge damage to the entire network of operations and fortunes of the airlines.
“This is very bad for business. We are airlines that are struggling and literally scraping bottom of the barrel in the face of an extreme operating environment. Now, the unions and our workers are doing this to us, in protest of a battle that has nothing to do with the operators. By the time they are done with the battle, I hope there will still be airlines to pay their salaries at the end of next month.”
Sources at the UNA said the relocation to GAT is a temporary measure to salvage what is left of the day’s losses, pending a truce between BASL and the unions.
Head of Corporate Communications, BASL, Oluwatosin Onalaja, said the picketing started at 2:30 a.m., in alleged violation of industrial and national laws.
Describing the union’s action as illegal, Onalaja said the extreme measure also contravenes an order issued by the National Industrial Court on October 31, 2022.
He disclosed that the union brought in members, who are not employees of Bi-Courtney, to prevent employees of BASL from working.
“This is also an unlawful action. Our relationship is with union members that are our employees and not external members. This is clearly an illegal action and continues to set a bad precedent in Nigeria,” he said.
Onalaja explained that the cause of the industrial action was the decision “to lay off some of our staff who we consider unproductive.”
He said: “It is our inherent right to manage our business in the most prudent manner, and we should not be intimidated by external forces, as is being done in this case.
“The unions are also claiming that we should apply the conditions of service, which we signed in June, 2021, retrospectively. Again, this is contrary to established rules of industrial relations and the laws of Nigeria.
“On being made aware of a court order issued by the National Industrial Court on October 31, 2022, the unions disregarded the order and continued to lock up our premises and disturb operations of the terminal, in clear violation of the court order. This is a recipe for anarchy.
“We remain very law-abiding citizens and use this medium to apologise to all our clients and stakeholders for the totally unacceptable behaviour of the union.”
As at press time, yesterday, The Guardian learnt that the union and Bi-Courtney were already having talks mediated by officials of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).