From Suleiman Idris, Lagos
Unions in the Nigerian aviation industry yesterday made real the threat to paralyse activities of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) over alleged Ministerial interference in the organogram of the agency and the refusal of the management to push for the implementation of the new Condition of Service (C0S) which is before the Salary and Wages Commission while also demanding the removal of the Director General of NCAA, Captain Usman Muhtar.
The leadership of the unions, comprising the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Association of Nigeria Aviation Professionals (ANAP), Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) and the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE) stormed the gates of the NCAA complex at the domestic wing of the Murtala Muhammad Airport in Lagos and at about 5:am an barricaded it entrance.
Staff who arrived for duty couldn’t gain entrance as they met the gets under lock and key while the unions chant solidarity songs demanding the implementation of agreement reach with the NCAA management and the ministry of Transportation (Aviation).
The protesting workers carried placards bearing various inscription such as “Captain Muhtar must go, enough is enough”, “ bring back our autonomy”, “our demand, expanded organogram, staff friendly COS, renegotiated staff health insurance policy” among others.
President of the Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN), Comrade Illitrus Ahmadu told reporters that the strike will continue as long as the NCAA management and the ministry did not yield to their demands.
He said the failure to engage the unions in discussion is akin to calling the bluff of the bodies.
“I can assure you that that since we wrote to the Minister expressing our grievances and copied the NCAA management, nobody invited us to discuss the issue so it is like calling the bluff of the unions with regards to the ultimatum.”
“You must understand that we are in a very tight position as unions. I can speak to you categorically as the leadership we are under tremendous pressure, workers are losing confidence in us and they expect nothing but what we are doing today.”
He said “We had a situation in NCAA and we agreed with management that the way to go about this is to review the organogram, management did a review with financial justification to say we have the capacity for the implementation of the new organogram, document was sent to the ministry for review, the ministry set up a team, they came, we agreed at the stakeholders meeting on certain things, l remember l asked the chairman of the committee, the former DHR ministry of aviation who said if we are satisfied with what we have and l said we were not fully satisfied but we can live with the consensus reached.”
According to Illitrus, “We were hopeful the document will come the way we agreed, then they came back rather than implement the expanded organogram agreed upon, they now shrank the organogram.”
He added that “the core essence of the review was to address an issue that arose in 2017 out of the promotion examination. They did not address that problem; rather they went and did something contrary.”
Speaking on why the unions did not ground flight, the ATSSAN President noted that “our intention is not to inflict pains on the Nigeria public and travellers, our grievance are with the NCAA and the Ministry and l can tell you flight operations can go on but l can also tell you that the impact will be felt in due course” “There are administrative issues, approvals that airline wants to obtain, they cannot get it within this period, we don’t have to shut down the airports or disrupt flight operations to achieve what we want”
On whether the bodies are ready to meet with the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, who has extended invitation to them for dialogue, he said “we got calls around 6 pm on Tuesday that the ministry is inviting us for a meeting in Abuja, so why did they wait till the eleventh hour, so we decided the strike action will on, we will avail ourselves to meet with government, if we are not satisfied with the outcome of the discussions, we will continue.”
Illitrus assured workers the union will not back down until all the demands are implemented just as he accused the NCAA management of not showing the commitment to ensure the speedy implementation of the condition of service of the agency document before the salary and wages commission.