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Strike: FG Declares Grounding Of Airports Illegal

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January 25, (THEWILL) – The Federal Government has stated that it will not allow a repeat of last Monday’s strike by aviation unions, which grounded activities at major international airports in the country.

The Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, made this known on Wednesday, while fielding questions from State House Correspondents after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, presided over by Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

The minister, who apologised to the affected passengers, said such action was not permitted, going by the provisions of the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) Act.

He regretted the damage such action could have done to sick passengers or those travelling for examination, after the return of an aircraft to its base.

Speaking on the fate of airport workers and passengers in the future, Sirika said, “This is very important to the travelling public. First, we apologise to them, our teeming passengers in this difficult moment.

“Secondly, this will not happen in the future by the grace of God. And the reason is simple, aviation is an essential service, the Act has been assented to by Mr President, so strikes and riots around our airports are prohibited by the laws of the land.

“And now that we have the act in place and assented by Mr President and passed by the National Assembly. So, we will deal with it according to the law. We will ensure no essential service is being disrupted by anybody no matter how aggrieved. There are other channels of channelling issues when they arise but they are not permitted to go on strike because aviation is an essential service and is by the law of the land now.

“I will give you an example, there was an airline that had to return to base because it couldn’t land. Imagine if there was a patient on that aircraft. Imagine somebody attending to a very serious issue or matter at hand or business or a student trying to catch up with an exam and then because of somebody who is aggrieved, some other person will die.

“The government will no longer allow that. So it’s in the law of the land, check the FAAN Act, it’s been assented to and it’s going to take place soon, in fact now, from today, we will not allow that.

“Our ears are always open, the government is open to listening to any grievances and there are procedures for dealing with this kind of grievances. They should please desist from this, it is wrong, it is inhuman, it is not allowed, it is not permitted and we will not be permitted any longer.”

On Monday, thousands of passengers were stranded nationwide following the strike embarked upon by two Aviation unions including the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) and the Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN).

The unions are at loggerheads with the management of the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO) over the poor remuneration of members working with them.

Both unions have been engaging the management until last week when a five-day notice of strike was issued to the management to accede to their request for a better welfare package.

THEWILL gathered reliably that the NAHCO management had secured a court order to stop the planned strike but the unions went ahead with the industrial action.

Meanwhile, Managing Director of Aero Contractors, Captain Ado Sanusi, has lamented Monday’s strike by staff of the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO), calling on the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to licence more intending players in the ground handling business to break the seeming monopoly in the system.

This is just as he has called for an independent investigation into the processes of the action embarked upon by workers stressing that the handling company should be liable for not issuing a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) to airlines beforehand and responsible staff identified and held accountable.

Sanusi was speaking to a Television programme where he noted that Aero Contractors incurred losses and even had to reschedule flights and cancel others, especially to airports, where services are restricted to daylight operations.

On the inability of the handling company to alert the airlines after getting a five-day notice of the impending action, Sanusi said “if NAHCO is found guilty of not issuing a NOTAM telling the authorities there is an impending strike in five days there are ways to sanction them, fine them; make them pay for losses you can even suspend their licences.

“You can equally identify the people responsible and make them accountable, we have to be accountable for our actions.”

On if a lawsuit should be instituted, he said; “There are two handling companies and they are a monopoly as we said. The lawsuit should be to the NCAA and you can join NAHCO and the rest. There should be an investigation to find out if due process was followed and what the process of engagement is when you want to go on strike especially when you perform critical services in the industry and any industry for that matter.

“Air traffic controllers, handling companies, fire services, these are critical and should not go on strike to disrupt operations so. In as much as it is the union’s right to go on strike they can seal offices and not allow work administratively not to disrupt the flow of traffic. That is dabbling in national security.

“Imagine a flight with over 300-400 passengers and they cannot land because there is no handling company, imagine the cost to the airline.

On ending these kinds of actions, the Aero boss said,” First we have to break the monopoly SAHCO can provide ad hoc services when NAHCO is entangled in such a situation and vice versa.

However, this may mean the handling companies have to break their agreement where if one of them is in a tough patch the other is not allowed to access its clients, part of the clause the companies agreed on when signing the new safety threshold tariff hike.

Sanusi, however, said this kind of situation will repeat if no action is taken, calling on the regulator to licence more ground handling companies.