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Nigerian news: Airport workers threaten strike action

International flights to Nigeria may be suspended from tomorrow as a coalition of unions in the aviation industry yesterday warned all international airlines flying into Nigeria to suspend their operations.

They have threatened to close the nation’s airspace over the handing over of the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja, Lagos, to Bi- Courtney Aviation Services Limited.

Minister of Aviation Babatunde Omotoba, who rushed into Lagos yesterday to meet the labour leaders, failed to stop the strike.

His meeting with the union leaders was deadlocked.

Omotoba, who rode in a convoy of two Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) to NUATE secretariat at BEESAM junction, Airport Road, spotting a green T-shirt and a pair of blue jeans trousers, declined to answer reporters’ questions.

He said: “I am not talking; I have nothing to say.”

The coalition is made up of World Federation of Transport Unions (WFTU), National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN), National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), National Union of Pensioners (NUP), and other international affiliates, including the International Transport Federation (ITF), International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the International Transport Workers Organisation.

NUATE National President Comrade Safiyanu Dauda Mohammed, who addressed reporters after the meeting with Omotoba, the Managing Director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Mr. Richard Aisuebeogun, and some directors in FAAN, said the unions would go ahead with the strike.

He said all flights within the country would be grounded as aviation unions and workers have been placed on the alert to deny air traffic services.

The NUATE boss explained that the minister, who said he was acting under pressure to hand over the general aviation terminal, could not convince the union members that the action was short of anything illegal, as it was lacking in transparency and due process.

He said investigations at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) showed that Bi- Courtney Aviation Services Limited is not properly registered.

He said although the unions are not opposed to improvement in infrastructure in the aviation sector, it would want the process that will bring it about to be transparent and controversy-free.

The NUATE boss, who was with his ATSSSAN counterpart, Comrade Benjamin Okewu and other principal members of the unions, said: “We were about commencing our meeting when the minister came in. There was no agreement we reached at the meeting.

We have decided to go ahead with our meeting. We only gave him the opportunity to address us, and nothing has been reached, no agreement. We told him we are going to sit and roll out our strategy.

“We went further to investigate that Bi- Courtney Aviation Services Limited is not registered by the Corporate Affairs Commission. The name is not on the register of registered companies. The court judgment that you heard that Bi- Courtney is touting about is only a declaratory. So, if (Wale) Babalakin wants to take over GAT, he should go to the same court and seek an executory judgment. The minister is acting on a script, and we are not going to leave him unchallenged.”

Also yesterday, the unions issued a general circular to all airport users, stakeholders and government agencies on the planned action.

A statement by ATSSSAN General Secretary, his NUATE and National Union of Pensioners (NUP) counterparts, Comrades Frank Sunny Aiyede, Gideon Ogbuji and Emeka Njoku, reads: “We, the umbrella unions operating in FAAN, write to inform of our intention to embark on industrial action with effect from 2400 hours on Wednesday (today) September 23,2009, should the Federal Ministry of Aviation on behalf of the Federal Government fail to reverse the illegal occupation and take over of the General Aviation Terminal by, Bi- Courtney, built and maintained by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria(FAAN).

“By this notice therefore, be duly informed that all airline operations in Nigeria may be affected by this action and are advised to take necessary precautions. However, we wish to enthuse with all air travellers that may be affected by this noble and patriotic action taken in the general interest of all and hereby seek for your understanding and cooperation in this regard.”

The Chairman of Bi- Courtney Aviation Services Limited, Dr. Wale Babalakin, yesterday reacted to the planned strike by the unions, describing it as diversionary.

The statement reads: “It has come to our notice that some persons are planning to disrupt operations at the General Aviation Terminal of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja, Lagos effective Wednesday September, 2009. This plot, we gathered, was fuelled by the rumour that the Bi- Courtney Aviation Services Limited, the concessionaire of the terminal, has planned a large scale workers’ lay-off following the hand over of the GAT by the Federal Government to Bi- Courtney.

“The management wishes to dismiss this rumour as unfounded and out of place in our determined effort to provide modern infrastructure and create opportunity for Nigerians. The hand over of GAT to our company will not in any way result in job losses or disrupt smooth terminal and flight operations for scheduled domestic activities. It is noteworthy that since the hand over of the terminal on Friday, operations have continued smoothly.

“The concerns of various aviation unions and other industry stakeholders are being addressed by Bi- Courtney in consultation with relevant bodies.Bi- Courtney appreciates the services of all workers at GAT and looks forward to working along with them for an effective, viable and vibrant industry.

“Our unwavering commitment is to transform the industry by upgrading aviation infrastructure to international standards in line with the Seven-Point Agenda of President Umaru Yar’Adua.”

Source: The Nation