Thursday, February 22, 2024

Airlines count losses, passengers stranded as aviation workers ground airports

  • FG warns against breakdown of law and order

Scores of passengers were stranded on Monday following a protest by aviation workers who blocked access roads to both the international and domestic wings of the Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos State.

The aviation workers had announced their readiness to commence a two-day warning strike over poor working conditions and entitlements.

The protest by the workers however led to serious gridlock along the Airport Road in the Ikeja area of Lagos, with the entrance of the Terminal Two of the Lagos airport mostly affected.

Security operatives, including police and military officers, were on the ground as the unions sang solidarity songs.

International flights were not affected.

“It is time for us to release aviation workers from the bondage of this imperialist aviation management that we have been having for years,” Abdulrasaq Saidu, secretary general of the Association of Nigerian Aviation Professionals, said.

Passengers were also stranded at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.

The strike had followed a meeting called by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority which ended in a stalemate on Sunday.

The unions comprising the National Union of Air Transport Employees, Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria; the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers and the Association of Nigerian Aviation Professionals, are demanding, among other things, that the planned demolition of aviation agencies’ headquarters in Lagos be halted.

On Monday, it was observed that passengers arriving at the Abuja airport were left stranded due to heavy traffic and a union lockdown of the check-in halls, causing long queues and disrupted vehicular movement.

It was also observed that the entrance to the check-in halls was locked by the union officials, leaving many passengers who were scheduled to travel stranded.

The official, who wished to remain anonymous, said that many of the stranded passengers missed their flights due to the union’s actions.

The situation caused chaos and confusion at the airport, with frustrated passengers voicing their displeasure at the lack of communication and assistance from airport officials.

A passenger, Justin Chinonso said,” I don’t know why a country like Nigeria, with such a huge amount of people, will treat citizens like this. This will cause a lot of havoc for citizens.”

“Protest is normal in every civilized country. It is a way of airing our views provided that it is done peacefully. I just got into the country two days ago and do not even know about the strike just hearing that now.”

Also, another passenger who is a student of Anglican Girls’ Grammar School, Apo simply wanted to be addressed as Sharon said she had arrived at the airport and was waiting for her mother to come and pick her up.

Speaking with her mother on the telephone, the mother said she had sent a driver since 8:30 am to pick her daughter up from the airport but due to the gridlock at the airport the driver had been in the traffic for close to three hours.

In Kaduna State, the striking workers also shut down activities at the airport.

The workers blocked all roads leading to the airport and locked up offices including the terminal building and the control tower.

Air Peace, which also flies international and regional routes and has the largest fleet, told passengers that “flights across our network will consequently be disrupted” due to the strike.

It did not say how many flights were delayed or cancelled.

United Nigeria equally said passengers in and out of Lagos would be disrupted but hoped for a quick resolution to the impasse.

Unions threaten total shutdown Tuesday

However, the aviation industry is set to experience a total shutdown on Tuesday as the aviation unions threaten to carry out a total strike.

The General Secretary Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, Civil Service Technical and Recreational Services Employees, Sikiru Waheed, disclosed this to journalists at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.

According to him, the second day of the ongoing strike will be more effective than the first day.

He added that the first day of the strike was just a warning to the public and the government that they are serious about their demands.

He said, “Day two of the strike would be more effective than what you are seeing here now because we only have some leverage today to serve as a warning to other people that are travelling.”

He also urged people who have plans to travel on Tuesday to shelve their plans, saying that the strike action will be a total shutdown.

“So people who need to travel tomorrow should please don’t book a flight for tomorrow because it is going to be a total shutdown, it is not going to be like today. By 5:00 am we will be here to shut down everywhere.

FG warns against breakdown of law and order

Meanwhile, the Federal Government, through the Ministry of Aviation, has issued a strong plea and warning to the aviation unions to end their ongoing strike, which has caused immense disruption to air travel across the country.

The Federal Government also expressed its displeasure at the ongoing warning strike by the aviation unions in spite of efforts at meeting the demands of the workers

A statement by the Head, Press and Public Relations of the ministry, Odutayo Oluseyi, noted that the strike was unnecessary as it would increase the hardship “on our citizens, affect flight schedules, lead to economic losses and negatively impact our rating globally.”

Oluseyi, who spoke on behalf of the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, said the grievances prompting the strike by the unions were issues that should not lead to a strike.

She added that the planned demolition of certain buildings obstructing the runway was in the public interest and an administrative issue that could be sorted in-house.

The statement further noted that the unions should have met with the management of agencies for alternative accommodation to all affected offices before going ahead with the strike.

The statement read, “On the Concession of airports, the Unions are aware of global practices and for the Aviation industry in Nigeria to be the hub in Africa, the concession is the way to improve infrastructure and make our airports economically viable as this is without loss of jobs.

“On Conditions of Service in some of the Agencies, it is a work in progress. The National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission is already carrying out assessments and will soon conclude.

“The Unions should also note if they are not already aware, that the consequential adjustment of the minimum wage has been finalised and is about to be paid anytime soon. We have always conveyed this information in the several conversations and meetings held with the unions.

“The Management of the Ministry of Aviation is open to continuous engagement with the Unions to improve their welfare. However, this can only be done in an atmosphere of peace and mutual respect.”

It added, “Let me reiterate that while we are appealing to the Unions to sheathe the sword, the Management will seriously view any behaviour by any Union that is likely to lead to a breakdown of law and order at our airports.

“The Ministry wishes to appeal to the Unions to call off the strike and join hands with Management to make the Aviation industry a hub in Africa.”

The Director General, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, Capt. Musa Nuhu, had on Sunday called for a meeting aimed at prevailing on the unions to shelve their planned two-day warning strike with representatives of the unions in attendance.

The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Aviation, Emmanuel Meribole, was also at the meeting.

The unions comprise the National Union of Air Transport Employees, Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria; the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers and the Association of Nigerian Aviation Professionals.

They are demanding, among other things, that the planned demolition of aviation agencies’ headquarters in Lagos be halted while also advocating the implementation of conditions of service signed with the staff of the aviation agencies.

The Deputy General Secretary of ATSSSAN, Frances Akinjole in a short interview on Sunday night after the meeting said, “As I am talking to you, nothing has changed. If you don’t hear anything from the General Secretary, the strike continues.”

He later followed up with a text message, saying, “The strike goes as planned.”

Among the striking workers include staff of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, and Nigerian Meteorological Agency.

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