On Tuesday, September 13, 2022, air travellers met a brick wall at our airports, as aviation union workers carried placards in protest against clauses in a new legislative Bill which could muzzle their Labour rights.

The protesting workers are of the National Union of Air Transport Employees, NUATE; Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, ATSSSAN; Association of Aviation Professionals, ANAP; National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers, NAAPE; and the Amalgamated Union of Public Corporation Civil Service Technical and Recreational Service Employees, AUPCTRE.

The unions gave the Federal Government a 14-day ultimatum (which will expire on Tuesday September 27, 2022) to address what they saw as a bid to empower the Minister of Aviation to gag them. They said that the clauses which declared activities in the aviation sector as “essential services”prevent unions in the sector from going on strike are thus obnoxious and unacceptable.

Section 67(1) of the recently passed Civil Aviation Act provides as follows: “All services which facilitate and maintain the smooth, orderly and safe take-off, flight and handling of aircraft and the disembarkation and evacuation of passengers and cargoes respectively in all aerodromes in Nigeria are hereby designated as essential services pursuant to the provisions of Section 2(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”.

Also, sub-section (2) provides: “The Minister may by regulations prohibit all or such class or classes of workers, officers and other employees or persons, whether corporate or natural, engaged in the provision of the services specified in sub-section (1) of this section from taking part in a strike or other industrial action”.

We are surprised that the aviation workers unions are only just now discovering these clauses when the law has already been passed by the National Assembly. There are public hearings before any law is passed for presidential assent. Did the unions participate in the public hearing? If they did and their concerns were ignored, then we can understand the protests. But if they did not, then they slept on their rights.

Whichever, we do not believe that legislative fiat is the right way of approaching Labour issues. The Nigerian convention of empowering ministers to “make regulations” to solve matters that should be settled through negotiation and agreement is an offshoot of military mentality. Negotiation, agreement and implementation is the only way out of Labour matters. The earlier governments get this, the better it will be at fostering smooth relationship with its workers’ unions.

On the other hand, however, we insist that professionalism and social responsibility should guide Labour in contemplating the strike option. Aviation is a live-wire of the economic and social life of a nation. A strike in that sector has international consequences.

It should be the last option and sparingly applied.

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