Nigeria: Concerns Over Flight Disruptions By Labour Unions

18 September 2020

Industry stakeholders have appealed to the federal government to wade into the industrial dispute rocking some of the airlines which saw the disruption of flight operations this week.

The stakeholders said most of the airlines are in precarious state since they resumed after the COVID-19 lockdown, insisting that without bailout or any form of financial support, some of the operators may shut down if their flights are disrupted.

The stakeholders also noted that revenues amounting to millions of naira have been lost by airlines and other companies working at the airport due to disruption by labour activities, adding that while it is the responsibility of labour to protect its members, it is of greater responsibility for them to ensure that the organisations they work for sustain their operations because they would lose their jobs when those businesses shut down.

The stakeholders were responding to the shutdown of Arik Air's operations on Monday, where workers were blocked from access to their offices, thus ensuring that the airline did not operate any flight that day.

THISDAY learnt that Arik Air was forced by the picketing to cancel about 28 flights last Monday and also about N50 million revenue lost, under the precarious post COVID-19 period, when airlines all over the world are struggling to survive.

In October 2018, labour had shut down the domestic terminal at the Lagos airport, known as MMA2 and both airlines and other business hosted by the terminal were said to have lost about N1.3 billion.

Many industry observers argue that the unions do not exhaust possibilities of dialogue before embarking on picketing of the businesses, which needed the revenue they lost to even pay workers their salaries.

Also, in December 2016, labour had engaged on two days standoff at Arik Air and stopped flight operations at such peak season, forcing the airline to record a loss of over N800 million.

THISDAY gathered that there are few businesses in the aviation industry which activities have not been disrupted in the last three years by the labour members, with the attendant loss of revenues.

The Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Captain Musa Nuhu, warned that airlines all over the world are facing hard times and many of them have been sacking their workers, despite the fact that some governments have given billions of dollars bailout to many of these airlines.

He said the situation is very, very precarious for the aviation and tourism sectors.

"The financial health of airlines is not limited to Nigerian airlines, it is a global issue, especially due to the impact of COVID-19. We have seen airlines that have gotten millions of dollars of subsidies from their governments, yet they are having issues.

"Many airlines have sacked workers, BA, Emirates; Lufthansa sacked workers and are withdrawing some aircraft. It is a global thing," the Director General said.

Also, the Secretary General of industry think-tank, Aviation Round Table (ART), Group Captain John Ojukutu (retd) wondered why labour would be disrupting airline operations at this unfavourable period, where the global economy is in dire straits.

"Unfortunately, I do not know the conditions the Arik labour force is demanding now that were not demanded before their engagement. Were these demands in the conditions of service or part of the airline staff career progression?

"It is very sad that some of the things that were needed to have been done in the business plans of most operators is what COVID-19 has been exposing and rather than addressing them, the solutions for everyone is 'government palliatives'.

"Operators' failed business plans demand government palliatives and the labour force is demanding a higher conditions of service in the downturn of earnings in the industry and reversed global economy. Unfortunately too, the labour force that have been creating problems for the industry are not the necessarily and essentially skilled ones like the crew and technical engineers but the labour assessories.

"As they are with the private operators, so they are with the government agencies. The aviation industry has witnessed more labour unrest than any other economic sector since last year.

"It is a sector that harbours more political interest than others, but it is the most delicate and critical to the national economy as well as the national security. The way we are going, I am afraid about the place of the industry in two years from now and who will save us from our path?

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