Aviation Workers Shut Airports Over New Law

Aviation unions Monday paralysed activities at the nation’s airports following simultaneous protests over an alleged move to proscribe trade union activities as contained in the newly passed Civil Aviation Act.

Thousands of passengers were stranded in airports across the country as many of them said they missed important appointments.

Five aviation unions had last Thursday threatened to shut down the industry after discovering what they called “obnoxious clauses” in the new Act assented to by President Muhammadu Buhari penultimate week.

They vowed to protest at all airports nationwide and picket the aviation agencies in Abuja and Lagos to demand for the removal of the clauses.

The unions also gave the federal government and the National Assembly 14 days to expunge the clauses or face a total shutdown of the industry. 

The protesting unions include the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN), the Association of Nigerian Aviation Professionals (ANAP), National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE) and the Amalgamated Union of Public Corporation Civil Service Technical and Recreational Services Employees (AUPCTRE). 

The contentious clauses 

The bone of contention, our correspondent learnt, is the provisions of Section 67, subsections 1, 2 and 3 in the new Act, which classify aviation workers as rendering essential services.

In designating aviation as essential services, Section 67 said, “All services, which facilitate and maintain the smooth, orderly and safe take-off,  flight and handling of aircraft and the 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  (I) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Subsection Two added that “The  minister may by regulations  prohibit all or  such  class  or  classes of workers, officers and other employees of persons, whether  corporate or natural,  engaged in  the provision  of the services  specified in subsection  (1) of this  section  from  taking  part in a  strike  or  other industrial action.” 

The unions however vowed to reject the provisions and said the implementation of the new CAA is dead on arrival.  

How the workers reacted in Kano 

In Kano, the commercial nerve centre of the North, it was a double-edged sword as an inter-agency spat between the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) resulted in the shutdown of the air navigational system by the air traffic controllers, thereby preventing flights from taking off or landing at the Malam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA). 

It was gathered that FAAN on Friday disconnected power supply to all NAMA staff accommodations due to non-payment of electricity bills, which provoked them (NAMA staff) to down tools, thereby affecting landing and take-off of flights. 

An airport official said AZMAN and Max Air flights scheduled for Abuja and Lagos in the early morning were not allowed to leave on schedule, and that passengers after boarding the flights were later told to disembark as the Air Traffic Controllers shut down their operations. 

However, Daily Trust reports that some hours later, the flights resumed after the disputes between the two bodies were resolved with the agreement that activities will continue with immediate effect. 

It was gathered that members of the Nigerian Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) had earlier threatened to shut down air navigation facilities in the Kano zone over the disconnection of electricity supply by FAAN. 

They, however, made good their threat, leaving hundreds of passengers stranded for hours even as the airport also contended with the protest by the unions.   

Lagos 

In Lagos, Daily Trust observed that members of the union started their protest from Arik Air/FAAN headquarters, marching towards the MMA2 before heading to their office at FAAN’s Maintenance Yard.

There was heavy gridlock along the airport road during the period of the protest. 

The unions had shut all entry points to the FAAN and NAMA regional headquarters, preventing workers from accessing their offices. 

All cars belonging to workers at FAAN, NAMA and other agencies were parked outside during the protest while the gates were only opened by 12 noon after the day’s protest. 

The union members carried placards with various inscriptions, saying no to an attempt by the federal government to criminalise trade union activities. 

General Secretary of the ATSSSAN, Comrade Frances Akinjole told our correspondent that classifying aviation as rendering essential services was an attempt to gag the unions and vow to resist it in totality.

He stated that the unions have resolved to shut down the industry in the next 14 days if the provisions were not expunged. 

He said findings by the unions from the National Assembly indicated that the provisions were not in the original bill passed by the legislature and call for an investigation to ascertain how the clauses found their way into the bill. 

Also, the National Treasurer of the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Comrade Safoya Araga reiterated that the workers would not fold their arms and allow their freedom of association to be tampered with. 

Abuja 

In Abuja, aviation workers at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport also joined their counterparts in the protest against the new CAA.

The protest saw the union members marching through the major roads at the airport, insisting that the classification of aviation workers as essential service providers in the new Act is anti-labour and must be rescinded by President Muhammadu Buhari.

The workers who took their protest from the international wing of the airport up to the gate carried different placards saying “Buhari don’t assent to anti-union aviation bill/act”,  our voices must be heard, protest is our right’, ‘when injustice becomes law, resistance becomes a duty”.

The Chairman of NUATE in Abuja, Comrade Dauda Nambol said the protest was premised on the illegal clauses inserted into the Aviation Bill.

He explained that classifying them as essential workers means that they would be exempted from all the instruments of their actions, they would not be allowed to carry out strikes, picketing or lock-outs, saying these are the instrument of their struggles as enshrined in the International Labour Organization (ILO) convention.

“We are comrades and this is our right as workers. If we feel dissatisfied over any issue we have the right to protest and we will not allow anybody to take away that right.”

Nambol warned that after the peaceful protest, they have given the government two weeks to retract the clause, saying failure to do so, they would use all the available instruments to ensure they achieve their struggle.

Passengers angry 

Hundreds of passengers in various airports were stranded following the double actions by the generality of aviation workers and air traffic controllers.

In Kano, for instance, some top personalities stranded at the airport including federal lawmakers, top executives of some states and others, had to intervene and sorted out the differences, which led to the restoration of the flight operation.

Sani Adamu, who passed the night in Kano after traveling by road from Bauchi with the intention of going to the office in Lagos said he was not happy.

My scheduled flight was 8.25 am from Kano to Lagos but we departed at 1.45 pm. 

“Aviation is a serious business and there is the need for all stakeholders to be on the same page to avert needless altercations,” he said.

Another passenger going to Abuja said he missed an important appointment with his doctor.

“The medical doctor comes once in three months and here I am…I have to live with my problem after carefully planning for this trip. It is really sad,” he said.

He said protest is legitimate provided workers felt cheated. 

Speaking to Daily Trust on the development, a staff working with FAAN, who doesn’t want his name mentioned because he was not cleared to speak to the press, said the dispute has been resolved and that scheduled flights left the airports for Abuja, Lagos and other places around 11:00am. 

“The problem has been resolved and normal activities have commenced in the airport. As I speak to you now, Azman and Max air are on their way to Abuja and Lagos as earlier scheduled. So, we have no other issue now and work has resumed, right now there is an announcement of flight,” the source has said. 

Minister denies in hand in ‘controversial clauses’ 

Meanwhile, the Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika has denied ‘smuggling’ the clauses into the bill.

His Special Assistant on Public Affairs, Dr. James Odaudu in a chat with one of our correspondents asked the unions to contact the lawmakers who passed the bill or the Presidency.

According to him, it is “uncharitable” to accuse the Minister, whom he said had always engaged the unions, of smuggling the clauses in the new Act. He said that should not be enough reason to shut down the airports, urging them to consider the economic losses that such an action would trigger.

Odaudu said, “The law was passed at the National Assembly. The union members were at the public hearing. If they were part of the process, is it now they would start blaming the minister?

“There is no minister in the history of aviation that has engaged the unions in discussion on policy matters than what this minister has done. 

“The minister did not pass the law. So if they feel aggrieved, they can approach the National Assembly or the President…”

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