‘Seun Ibukun-Oni, Abuja –
Five major aviation unions including 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), Association of Nigerian Aviation Professionals (ANAP), and Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, Civil Service Technical and Recreational Services Employees (AUPCTRE), on Monday, embarked on a peaceful protest to drive home their demand for the need to expunge the “obnoxious essential services” clauses from the Bills/Acts of the Aviation Agencies.
The affected agencies include the Accident Investigation Bureau, Nigeria (AIB-N), Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet), Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), and Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT).
As a result of the protest, aviation workers, who were going to work Monday morning, were greeted with heavy traffic movement at the local wing of the Lagos airport.
The situation is the same at other airports across the country, as what played out in Lagos, also took place in Kano, Port Harcourt, and Abuja.
At the Murtala Mohammed Airport (MMA), Lagos, the unions’ officials, and their members marched around the domestic terminals chanting solidarity songs with placards bearing several demands raised above their heads.
The early morning rains in Lagos did not stop the protesting unions from demanding and insisting that the clause in the bill be removed for industrial harmony.
Gates and Offices of FAAN, NAMA, and the NCAA were locked, as all members of the different unions, NUATE, ATSSSAN, ANAP, NAAPE, and AUPCTRE joined in the protest.
According to the unions, the clauses contained in the bill do not empower them to embark on strike.
They complained about a situation, where the minister of aviation will direct the affairs of the unions, pointing out that classifying them as essential personnel is at variance with the ILO Convention.
The union’s leadership said that such a plan by those who smuggled this clause into the bill was targeted at denying them their rights of association and expression.
They said if no action is taken to expunge the clauses after 14 days, aviation workers will embark on a full-blown strike.
The unions also kicked against provisions in the bill, which give the Minister of Aviation overriding powers to direct affairs on issues affecting trade unions in the industry, describing such a situation as usurpation of the duties of the Ministry of Labour.
Ocheme Aba, Secretary General, NUATE, while giving details on the matter, said classifying aviation workers as essential services personnel is at variance with ILO categorisation.
He said the withdrawal of services by personnel that threatens lives could be described as essential, for which the transport sector does not qualify.
According to him, only air traffic control services qualify as essential – because of their advisory function to aircraft in flight.
He said aviation unions have carried the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) along in the bid to reverse the ugly trend, which seeks to muzzle aviation workers.
The five unions, earlier in the week, sent out circulars to all members, jointly signed by Ocheme Aba, General Secretary, NUATE; Frances Akinjole, General Secretary, ATSSSAN; Umoh Ofonime, Deputy General Secretary, NAAPE; Abdulrasaq Saidu, Secretary General ANAP, and Sikiru Waheed, General Secretary, AUPCTRE.