The National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE) shut down all the domestic and regional operations of Air Nigeria over backlog of salaries and other issues. IME AKPAN reports on the crisis and its attendant implication.
For almost one week running, Air Nigeria has had its services paralysed because of a trade dispute with its pilots and engineers who operate under the umbrella of National Association of Airline Pilots and Employees (NAAPE). And there is no end in sight as to when a truce will be called as both parties are talking tough.
At issue are pension deductions not remitted for over seven months, tax refund and tax clearance issues, co-operative deductions not yet remitted, among some others.
The national president of NAAPE, Mr. Isaac Balami told Blueprint in an interview that Air Nigeria’s management had an agreement with its pilots and engineers last year but reneged on the implementation.
In a statement issued in Lagos and signed by Balami, the association said: “Our attention has been drawn to various national dailies recently as per what the Air Nigeria management called illegal, unfortunate and cheap blackmail the process in which NAAPE suspended all the domestic and regional flights of the airline.
“NAAPE, as an association, is sensitive and credible. There has been series of negotiations that the airline refused to yield to. The association did not just wake up and decide to disrupt the airline’s operations. We have been pushed to the wall.
“Air Nigeria has not remitted pension being deducted from all staff members into their respective pension accounts since August 2011. Tax is being deducted from staff salary without the issuance of a tax card for any staff member. These are just a few of the trigger actions that facilitated the action. Salary delay has also been a recurring decimal in company.
“We believe that when business owners are making money, the workers should not be neglected as they are the geese that lay the golden eggs for the organisation. The airline in question is not a respecter of the labour law as the same law has been flouted on number of occasions.
“We will not rest until justice is done on this matter. For an industry that prides itself with seasoned professionals, and also considering the delicate nature of the job, we believe that any issue that affects welfare adversely should not be tolerated. Negotiations have been going on for months and the down tool action was the last and difficult action.”
But the management of the airline reacted angrily and accused NAAPE of being used by unnamed competitors to frustrate its business.
“The unfortunate action which is coming without duly exploring the laid down avenues of negotiations has led to a temporary grounding of our domestic and regional operations. The strike action is uncalled for and a cheap blackmail by NAAPE as only one hour notice was given before the strike action was embarked upon.
“This is an unacceptable behaviour in the aviation industry and management is of the view that NAAPE is acting under external influence.
“It is very unreasonable and cheap blackmail for NAAPE to embark on strike action based on non-payment of May salaries in the mid-night of May 31st when in fact some of the staff had collected their salaries with the rest of the staff still being processed.
“It is therefore illegal and criminal for NAAPE to allow itself to be used by competitors, who are envious of the giant steps already taken by Air Nigeria. Management is already working on a policy that will put a permanent stop to this cheap blackmail,” said the airline.
Balami countered and maintained that the airline’s management was given sufficient notice. He stated that NAAPE had informed the airline that it would cripple the services of the airline on May 31 if all issues relating to workers’ welfare were not adequately addressed.
He also alluded to the fact that non-payment of workers’ benefits could have a negative impact on safety for “aviation thrives on safety.”
“We are talking of safety. A poorly motivated workforce is a disaster for an airline and this is what the management of Air Nigeria has refused to accept. The pilots and engineers are not slaves; they reached an agreement with the airline last year on their working condition including their unpaid allowances. The Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah and the Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr. Harold Demuren, were witnesses, but the airline does not want to implement the agreement. Its operations will remain grounded until the management comes down,” said Balami.
On the issue of safety, it would be recalled that last year NAAPE protested against the suspension of the airline’s head of maintenance, Mr. James Erigba, who was said to have refused to release an unserviceable aircraft for operation.
Although Erigba was later recalled, NAAPE had already directed all the airline’s engineers at all airports to stop work until a counter directive was issued.
The workers then used the opportunity to demand for the provision of tools and spare parts to work with, approval of annual leave to engineering personnel, prompt payment of salaries as well as review of remuneration.
They also disclosed that out of 11 aircraft in the airline’s fleet, only seven were serviceable and accused Air Nigeria of coercing engineers to release some unserviceable aircraft for the airlift of passengers.
Recently too, a former executive director of the company Mr. John Nnorom described the airline as a “flying coffin.”
He alleged that last January, the company’s licensed engineers went on strike because they were being forced to certify unfit aircraft for operation, while another strike was averted last March following the intervention of the director general of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr. Harold Demuren.
He also alleged that out of the 11 aircraft operated by Air Nigeria, only one, Embraer, is serviceable while the remaining ones require “deep and heavy” technical maintenance.
In his reaction, the managing director and chief executive of the carrier, Mr. Kinfe Kahssaye maintained that the airline had continuously adopted what he described as “world class standards” in the execution of its flight operations and maintenance activities, including maintaining a pool of required spares and other tools required for the day to day maintenance of aircraft in its fleet.
“The airline also strives to ensure that the conditions of service of its personnel are at par with best practices in the industry. We would also like to assure our valued customers and the general public that at no point is the safety of passengers and crew compromised in the execution of the airline’s operations,” he added.
Another staff of the airline who did not want to be named however said Nnorom “is trying to cash in on the unfortunate happening in the industry to heat it up.”
“It is unfortunate that a former employee of the airline wants to rubbish the airline,” he added.
However, a consultant with NCAA, Group Capt. John Obakpolor advised the regulatory agency to be strict in carrying out its functions. He warned that the regulation of the industry should not be subjected to emotional human feelings but to strictly apply the rules, stressing that zero tolerance of any laxity in the area of safety should not be compromised.
“When they say that the industry is over regulated, they want some human touch. This is the only industry that does not have human touch when it comes to compromise. It has zero tolerance for compromise. This is not the industry where you will say that the man at the top wants you to do it the way he wants, which is not in line with regulation,” said Obakpolor.
He explained that aircraft manufacturers and designers have a regulation for them on how their safety and maintenance could be ensured and stressed that it is crucial that the procedures are followed.
“It is in ensuring that these procedures are followed that we have aviation regulatory body and that body must be strict and follow the procedures that are laid down. If they are not followed you start seeing flaws. Pilots are given their licenses to fly. There are so many conditions that must be met before that license is issued,” he remarked.
Filed Under: Aviation