Nigeria: Airlines Count Losses As Airport Workers' Strike Grounds Local, Int'l Flights

24 January 2023

Local and international flights were disrupted for several hours yesterday, as staff of ground handling company, Nigerian Aviation Handling Company (NAHCo), grounded flight operations for several hours over salary issues.

The strike was, however, suspended after the intervention of the Directorate of State Service (DSS); Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN); NIgerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA); the Nigeria Airforce and Port Health.

LEADERSHIP gathered that NAHCo had agreed with the unions that all negotiations concerning salary of their staff would be concluded within the week and no staff would be victimized as a result of the strike action.

However, due to the strike action, hundred of passengers were stranded at the Muritala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), while Passenger as well as cargo aircraft couldn't be boarded nor offloaded.

Recall that NAHCo handles check-in, boarding, and ramp services for many international carriers including Delta, Turkish Air, Ethiopian Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Qatar, and Air France-KLM, among others.

On the domestic scene, NAHCo handles ground handling service for Air Peace, Azman, Dana, United Nigeria.

All the airlines, local and international, however, released operations impact statements to the public stressing how the current situation affected their operations.

Foreign airlines such as Royal Air Maroc, Qatar Airlines and Virgin Atlantic had to offload their staff with its cargo still on the aircraft.

Equally, a Qatar Airlines cargo aircraft which landed in the morning had it's cargo stucked for over two hours because of the strike action.

However, in a press statement by Air Peace, and a copy made available to LEADERSHIP, the airline said it lost over N500million due to the industrial action, adding that the industrial action paralysed its operations across its large network.

The airline stated that the ground handling company did not pre-inform them about the strike neither was a public notice issued.

"Neither NAHCO nor the striking union informed us of an impending strike. Our staff reported to work and noticed an ongoing industrial action. If we were informed beforehand, we would have conveyed same to our passengers early enough.

"Now, all morning flights and other subsequent flights have been disrupted- cancelled, delayed and rescheduled. This has cost us over N500 million as we operate over 100 flights daily. Passengers are also attacking our ground staff as they cannot fly.

"We have notified the flying public of the strike but it is important to stress again that the action is by the staff of NAHCO, not Air Peace. It is an action against the Management of NAHCO, and Air Peace has nothing to do with it.

"While we monitor the situation and hope things return to normal soon, we regret the impact of the disruptions on the travel plans of our passengers and implore them to desist from assaulting our staff. We are not responsible for the disruptions", the airline stated.

A staff of United Airline who craved anonymity also disclosed to LEADERSHIP that the airline incurred additional costs such as delay packs, extra pay for crew hours and passengers wrath.

She said, "the truth is it's not normal, at the end of the day the airlines will be left holding the ball. The airlines share delay packs which come with additional cost, the schedule is affected, people will probably fly into the night.

"So we know the implications but it's all on the airlines' who will bear all of these. You have to pay the crew, they are at work already and so you have to pay, the longer hours a crew stays in the aircraft, the more you have to pay. So the impact is there and it's huge.

"And they know, this is not the first time this is happening, remember the one of MMA2, this one again and they did not communicate it properly to people because if people had known on Sunday, they would have made arrangements and messages would have been sent to our customers. Now, all our flights are delayed and we will bears it all," he lamented.

Meanwhile, it was gathered that truce was reached and striking workers call off the strike action after a meeting between National Union of Air Transport Employees ( NUATE), Air Transport Senior Staff Services Association of Nigeria ( ATSSSAN) and management of the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company ( NAHCO).

In a resolution document signed by secretary general of NUATE, Ocheme Aba; ATSSSAN's Frances Akinjole and Sola Obaboli for NAHCO observed by the Department of State Services ( DSS), Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Port Health and the Nigeria Air Force, the NAHCo management agreed to withdraw the suit and vacate the earlier obtained court order.

The resolution reads, "Management has decided to withdraw the suit and vacate the earlier obtained court order. A counter offer to the union's demands will be issued by the management before close of business today, 23rd January 2023.

Others are, "Negotiations on staff welfare would commence on Wednesday, 25th, January 2023, all negotiations would be concluded within the week, all staff should resume work immediately and no staff would be victimised as a result of the strike action."

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