Minister meets NAAPE over two-week ultimatum, mass sack

Minister meets NAAPE over two-week ultimatum, mass sack
Muritala Muhammad International Airport, Lagos

•Pilots demand bailout package for airlines

The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, has intervened in the face-off between airlines and union of pilots and engineers over welfare disputes and sack of some workers.

The Guardian learnt that Sirika had appealed to the union to suspend picketing of Bristow Helicopters to allow for dialogue over the matter and others at a meeting scheduled for the Ministry of Labour office in Lagos yesterday.

The professionals, under the aegis of National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE), had issued a two-week ultimatum to aviation regulators to address wage cuts and mass sack of members, or face nationwide industrial action.

They said the mass sack was the height of the local airlines’ insensitivity to their plight, following wage cuts under the “pretense” of coronavirus economic realities.

The body urged the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to prevail on all airline operators to stop alleged mal-treatment of pilots, just as it urged the Federal Government to speedily release the promised relief package for the industry to further save jobs and businesses.

Recall that Air Peace on Monday sacked 75 pilots citing financial difficulties in the COVID-19 era. Some of the affected workers, however, said their “sudden” disengagement was not unconnected with the recent row over pay cut and mild protest by the pilots.

A day after, Bristow Helicopters also terminated the contract of over 100 pilots and engineers in its operations. Some of the affected workers, in collaboration with the union, had on Monday embarked on indefinite strike action, picketing the airline office in Lagos over welfare issues and alleged infractions.

President of NAAPE, Abednego Galadima, said the association was pushed to the wall with the unilateral decisions of airlines to axe pilots and engineers’ wages and introduced wage disparities without consultation with the concerned workers.

Galadima said Air Peace, Azman, and Caverton Bristow helicopters were the worst culprits in the harsh regime.

“Not done with the hijack of salaries of our members, pilots and engineers are subjected under duress to sign new terms and conditions of employment, or be fired,” he said.

Galadinma said the scheme was to casualise pilots and engineers, describing it as condemnable as it amounts to violent extortion, the deployment of the instrument of intimidation and harassment of workers in the workplace.

He said despite the collaboration with their union and others in written and oral submissions to the airlines for a roundtable to resolve all labour matters, the airlines allegedly refused to see reasons.

He observed that while expatriates on the payroll of Caverton and Bristow helicopters were paid in U.S. dollars, their Nigerian counterparts were allegedly treated contemptuously with inferior pay when they do the same job and evenly qualifications.

Galadinma further alleged that some of the operators were bent on displacing their Nigerian staff in favour of expatriates, citing that Air Peace had already employed foreigners in place of sacked Nigerian pilots.

“A company that chose to steal our jobs, steals our skills, and then throw us into the unemployment market does our nation no good and should be treated with caution. Acts that flagrantly disregard our laws and traditions undermine workplace relations, and in turn inject stress on pilots and engineers, endangering safety of lives and property of the flying public.

“As a result of the known consequences, if these illegal actions are not redressed in the next two weeks, we shall be forced to withdraw our guarantee of industrial peace within the industry. Our union will be left with no option but to withdraw the services of pilots and aircraft maintenance engineers across all the airlines,” the president said.

Scribe of the union, Frank Igwe, said the development must be nipped in the bud before it becomes a greater threat to the survival of the industry.

Igwe demanded that such acts were capable of unsettling the minds of pilots and engineers and could lead to human errors in operations.

NAAPE demanded that Bristow helicopters and Air Peace recall all sacked pilots until all labour issues were resolved or be grounded by the NCAA because of attendant safety concerns created by their actions.

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