Trade unions in the Nigerian aviation sector Monday shut down flight operations nationwide over alleged anti-labour clauses in the new aviation bills currently awaiting President Muhammadu Buhari’s assent to become law.
The unions which downed tool are the Air Transport Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN), National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE), National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Association of Nigerian Aviation Professionals (ANAP) and Amalgamated Unions of Public Corporations, Civil Service Technical and Recreational Services Employees (AUPCTRE).
The strike was due to what they described as oppressive clauses in the new bills governing affairs of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and four other aviation agencies.
The unions said the clauses were a ‘subtle attempt’ to restrain their powers and obliterate unionism, threatening to proceed on industrial action if their requests for withdrawal of the bills are not granted before the next 14 days.
The action left passengers stranded, as they struggled to get the necessary information, and flight directives amongst others in the airport.
The contentious clauses are: “all services which facilitate and maintain the smooth, orderly and safe take-off, flight and landing of aircraft, embarkation and 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(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as altered).
“The minister may, by regulations, prohibit all or such class or classes of workers, officers and other employees or persons, whether corporate or natural, engaged in the provision of services specified in subsection (1) of this section from taking part in a strike or other industrial action.
“The provisions of the Trade Disputes (Essential Services) Act, Cap. T9, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 shall apply to service in the agency, facilities managed by the agency and in the implementation of this bill. There shall be no strikes, lock-outs, pickets, blockades, service disruptions, etc. of any kind within all facilities managed by the agency and where any labour dispute arises, such dispute shall be resolved by the agency.”
In Abuja, the aviation workers disrupted activities at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, on Monday.
The workers who took their protest from the international wing of the airport up to the entrance gate of the airport 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”.
Speaking at the protest, the state council chairman of the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) Abuja, Comrade Dauda Nambol, said the protest was premised on the illegal clause inserted into the Aviation Bill
He said 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 instruments of their struggles as enshrined in the International Labour Organisation (ILO) convention.
“We are comrades and this is our right as workers; if we fill dissatisfied over any issue, we have the right to protest and we will not allow anybody take away that right. We are calling on the president not to assent to that bill because that bill is anti-labour and we will make sure we win that struggle,” he stated.
Nambol warned that after the peaceful protest, they have given the government two-weeks to retract the clause, saying if he fails to do so, they would use all the available instruments to ensure they achieve their goal.
NUATE secretary general, Ocheme Aba, said the implication of the clauses is that the bills grant powers to the minister of aviation to regulate trade unions and workers in contradiction to the Trade Unions Act, 2004, which grants the minister of labour the sole regulatory powers over trade union and industrial relations matters in Nigeria.
“It is clear that the contentious clauses smuggled into the aviation agencies’ bills have no moral or legal basis for being there. The lame reference to Section 11(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Public Order and Public Security) is poignantly pretentious.
“Its attempt to enable the minister of aviation to usurp the powers of the minister of labour is diabolically disingenuous, and its bold assault on the rights of trade unions and hapless workers renders the intended law a demonstration of an ultimate disservice by public officers. Therefore, the intended laws must be prevented from breathing any air of acceptance.
“The leadership of the Senate and House Committees on Aviation should withdraw the bills and expunge the contentious clauses before approval by President Buhari,” Aba added.