Chinelo Obogo, Lagos
Three major aviation unions on Thursday prevented the Minister of Aviation, Captain Hadi Sirika, from gaining entry into Freedom Square, the headquarters of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Lagos, following a one-day warning strike over unpaid salaries.
The Minister was to hold a town hall meeting with the unions and members of staff on Thursday at noon to resolve the pending issues but he was prevented from doing so after the gates leading to the airports authority headquarters were shut by the unions.
Canopies and chairs had been set up in preparation for the meeting, but outside the venue gates were shut with padlocks and blocked with vehicles while union members were carried placards and sang solidarity songs.
On Wednesday, October 14, the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) and the Association of Nigerian Aviation Professionals (ANAP), issued a notice to embark on a one-day warning strike after the seven-day ultimatum issued to FAAN management to meet their demands were not met.
Their demands included immediate payment of outstanding allowances, leave allowances, remittance of contributory pensions, cooperative deductions, gratuity of retired staff and death benefits.
Others are immediate release of aviation intervention funds, immediate implementation of the national minimum wage and immediate remittance of N105.3 billion actuarial valuation as 2016 to PFA’s, immediate reparation of 2020 actuarial valuation.
The leaders of the unions said they had to shut down the venue of the meeting over plans by the Minister of to address the workers directly rather than negotiating with the union leaders.
As early as 9 am, the unions had already converged for the one day strike after which they planned to go back and negotiate with FAAN management.
NUATE President Ben Nnabue, who spoke to journalists, said:
‘This is a warning strike and the Minister cannot come and talk to our workers directly without us. This action is just for today after which we will renegotiate with the management.’
Meanwhile, an advance party comprising the Managing Director of FAAN, Captain Rabiu Yadudu and Director General of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority ( NCAA), Captain Musa Nuhu and other directors were not allowed to address the Congress that was gathered at the Freedom Square.
Ocheme Aba who spoke to the media told the gathering that if the management of FAAN consented to the agreement reached, the warning strike would end today and a week will be allowed for management to meet the demands of the workers to avert a full blown indefinite strike.
In an effort to stall the unions’ action after the expiry of the ultimatum issued, a series of meetings were lined up in regions of the country all through next week to meet with staff however, the unions have warned it’s members to steer clear.
An internal memo dated October 8 and titled “Invitation for a Meeting with the Honourable Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika with ref: FAAN/HA/1A/400/19/Vol 4/39”, signed by the General Manager Administration, MD Musa, said the meeting with all staff is an interactive session to discuss the challenges meted on the agency by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The letter read in part:
‘It is an interactive session aimed at addressing the prevailing challenges facing FAAN in particular and the aviation industry in general, occasioned by the COVID-19 global pandemic.
‘All staff are therefore enjoined to avail themselves of this unique opportunity offered by the honourable minister to present issues bothering their welfare among other challenges, offer suggestions that will move the organisation forward.
‘The meetings were scheduled to hold in the SouthWest (Lagos) on Monday October 12, South South/ South East (Port Harcourt) on Tuesday October 13th; North Central (Abuja) on Thursday October 15th and North West/East in Kano on Friday October 16.’
But arising from the extraordinary emergency meeting of JAC held on October 9, the JAC-in-session resolved that all FAAN staff should boycott the invitation in all regions. It said it viewed the planned meeting as an attempt to justify the planned concession programme.
Apart from the planned boycott of these meetings in the region, the unions insisted that FAAN management meets its demands ranging from remittance of ₦105.3 billion actuarial valuation as at 2016, remittance of all pension deduction to the Pension Fund Administrators (PFA), immediate preparation of 2020 actuarial valuation.
Others include immediate remittance of all cooperative deductions, immediate payment of (i) child education grant (ii) leave allowance (iii) furniture grant (iv) gratuity (v) Covid-19 palliatives (vi) death benefits (vii) other claims.
At the time of filing this report, Sirika was at the VIP lounge of the local airport with his entourage after he was denied entry into the venue of the proposed meeting.
Due to this development, staff of other aviation agency, the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency NAMA and the Nigerian Quarantine services couldn’t also gain entry to their offices.