Tuesday, 26th September 2023
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Aviation workers reject FG’s overtures, disrupt flight operations over CoS, welfare

By From Wole Oyebade (Lagos) and Joke Falaju (Abuja)
18 April 2023   |   4:45 am
Aviation workers’ unions, yesterday, made good their threat to withdraw services from airports nationwide, in protest against non-implementation of Condition of Service (CoS), and other welfare-related issues.

Aviation workers

• Passengers stranded in Lagos, Abuja, face traffic snarl
• Ministry flays action, warns against day-two total shutdown plans

Aviation workers’ unions, yesterday, made good their threat to withdraw services from airports nationwide, in protest against non-implementation of Condition of Service (CoS), and other welfare-related issues.

The two-day warning strike, which continues today, led to partial grounding of flight operations, with massive disruptions.

The Guardian learnt that a late Sunday night negotiation and concession by the Federal Government to the aggrieved workers was rejected.

And as early as 5:00 a.m., at Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, yesterday, scores of unionists blocked vehicular access into the airport terminals and surrounding aviation agency offices, causing heavy traffic around Ikeja and environs.

With determined travellers forced to walk a distance to meet up with their schedule, the first set of flights for the day were all delayed for about 90 minutes to two hours.

At the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airports, Abuja, the second busiest airport after Lagos, scores of union members were also on ground as at 7:00 a.m., with minimal disruption of access to both the local and international terminals.

Chief Operating Officer of one of the airlines told The Guardian that the “injurious action” of protesters, with over 70 per cent of scheduled flights affected, is next to total closure of the airspace.

He explained that about 95 per cent of all domestic flights in Nigeria take-off from Lagos daily. “To have delayed those flights for an hour-plus means that almost 50 per cent of the day’s offering is in trouble. Now, they (unions) are even preventing passengers from coming to airlines. That is serious economic sabotage against airlines that are responsible for their salaries.

“The unions are making their own case on welfare, and will get what they want at the end of the day. But what of the airline businesses they are killing, and travellers that are hurting? As I speak, more than 70 per cent of our flights are affected. Why do we always have to suffer for a conflict of interest that has nothing to do with us? That is my pain. It is not fair,” the official said.

Recall that the coalition of aviation workers’ unions, made up of members of the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN), National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE), the Association of Nigeria Aviation Professionals (ANAP), and Amalgamated Union of Public Corporation Civil Service Technical and Recreation Services Employees (AUPCTRE), recently, bemoaned non-implementation of the CoS about seven years after it was negotiated with the workers.

They also rued non-implementation of minimum wage consequential adjustments and arrears for the Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NiMet) since 2019, and planned demolition of all the agency’s buildings in Lagos by the Minister of Aviation for an airport city project, but without consideration for workers that would be displaced.

The General Secretary of AUPCTRE, Sikiru Waheed, told reporters in Abuja that day-one of the protest was to warn the traveling public to make other plans as they intend to shutdown airports today.

Waheed said day-two of the strike would be more intense. “We only gave leverage, to serve as a warning for the traveling public, so that people, who need to travel tomorrow, should not book flights, because it will be a total shutdown. By 5:00 a.m., we will be here to shut down everywhere. So, we are appealing to everyone that intends to travel tomorrow (Tuesday) to shelve it because flights will be disrupted.”

He explained that the controversial CoS, and payment of minimum wage were the main issues on ground, adding that since 2009, the consequential allowance had been approved by the Federal Government. However, they are yet to be implemented in the sector.

“If the CoS to enhance the service is not forthcoming, how do you expect people to feel when we all go to the same market? Our purchasing power has really gone down, and it has become difficult for the aviation industry to work in line with the economic situation of the country.”

Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, however, appealed to the union to exercise patience, saying implementation of the CoS in some of the aviation agencies is work in progress.

Sirika noted that the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission was carrying out assessments, and would soon conclude the protocol.

Sirika’s statement, signed by the Head of Press, Oluseyi Odutayo, also expressed the displeasure of the ministry at the ongoing warning strike by the aviation unions “in spite of efforts at meeting the demands of the workers”.

He said: “The strike is unnecessary as it will increase the hardship on our citizens, affect flight schedules, lead to economic losses, and negatively impact on our rating globally.”

On the grievances prompting the strike by the unions, the ministry said: “These are issues that should not lead to strike. The unions should also note – if they are not already aware, that consequential adjustment of the minimum wage has been finalised, and about to be paid any time soon. We have always conveyed this information in the several conversations and meetings held with the unions.

“It should be noted that the planned demolition of certain buildings obstructing the runway is in public interest, and an administrative issue that can be sorted in-house. The unions should have met with management of agencies for alternative accommodation to all affected offices before going ahead with the strike.