Unions doubt proper application of aviation intervention fund

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*Sirika

Unions in Nigeria’s aviation industry have expressed reservation about the N2.3 trillion intervention fund approved by the federal government to assist businesses cope with the economic devastation occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic.

The unions are the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) and Association of Nigeria Aviation Professionals (ANAP).

Speaking at après conference in Lagos, the unions represented by the general secretary of NUATE, Mr. Ocheme Aba, general deputy secretary of ATSSSAN, Mr. Frances Akinjole and general secretary of ANAP, Mr. Abdulrasaq  Saidu, the unions expressed pessimism that aviation industry’s share of the fund may be misapplied like the previous ones.

The trio who spoke unions said aviation was yet to feel any impact of the fund despite that the industry is the most badly affected by COVID-19.

Consequently, it said all the aviation companies are in dire financial and economic strait.

They stated that more than 80 per cent of aviation workforce in the private sector that have been forced to go on furlough for the past four months remain in penury while another chunk of workers have been coping with half or less salary within the period.

Unfortunately, they said the same workers are expected to return to work and continue to work on empty stomachs until the companies are able to pay salaries.

“Our greater fear lies in the uncertainty that beclouds the modalities for application of the intervention funds,” they said.

Against the background of government’s stated purpose for the intervention – continuity of business, continuity of employment, and continuity of income for employees the unions said they had severally brought government’s attention to the recommendations of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in partnership with the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF).

According to the unions, the recommendations are that government is expected to

*recognise aviation as a public good that warrants strong government regulation and oversight, planning, investment, and public ownership;

*establish national and tripartite aviation bodies of labour, government and employer representatives to develop strategies, coordinate investment and financial responses, plan the supply of labour, and oversee all aviation operations,

*extend sick leave entitlements, maintain incomes and extend social protections to all workers, including formal, precarious and informal workers, regardless of status of employment

*reduce subcontracting and outsourcing services and jobs and, where appropriate, mandate airport authorities to directly manage and/or employ all airport staff, including outsourced and agency workers, cleaners, etc.

*offer conditional relief and support services to airlines, airport authorities and supply chain companies, including through debt relief, delays to tax and duties, and public ownership of shares;

*agree on conditions for these financial and support packages, including private repurchase of shares.

 “We are apprehensive that should government deviate from this well thought-out and comprehensive modalities, then the intervention might well be, like in the past, a mere bazaar, or cash dole out rather than bail out. This will do the industry no good. We therefore, ask for both haste and due diligence in dealing with this issue,” they said.

On the condition of service of workers in aviation agencies, the unions said what is obtainable cannot guarantee industrial harmony.

They stated that conditions of service for the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), and Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMET) workers have been “wholly or partially unattended to by either, or both, the salaries and wages commission and office of the head of service of the federation – for upwards of seven years within which period there ought to have been about three turnovers of the documents.

“All efforts, including a personal visit by the minister of aviation to the commission and numerous communications between the agencies/ministry of aviation and the two establishments have failed to impress both the commission and office of the head of service of the federation in the above regard.

“They have both blatantly refused all entreaties to recognize the injustice they have wrecked on hapless workers who have had to bear the brunt of their nebulous ways. How long such callous attitude shall be borne by aviation workers is anyone’s guess.

On minimum wage, they said “workers in the public service have since 2019 been enjoying the benefits of the reviewed wages.

“But…only two of six aviation agencies have implemented the new wage. All efforts on our part to implement the Act in NAMA, NCAA, FAAN and Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) have proven futile so far.”

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