November 3, 2022

Incessant air travel disruptions

Foreign airlines’ funds blocked in Nigeria hit $743.7m - IATA

THERE are some things that are disconcerting; one of them is rushing to the airport to catch a flight only to be met with a strike, picketing or shutdown of airports by the workers’ unions in the aviation sector. In the past couple of months, travellers were subjected to nightmares due to service disruptions from a variety of sources, especially striking aviation sector workers. 

On September 12, 2022, the unions dislocated services as they protested a bill in the National Assembly seeking to classify their jobs as “essential services” which, they felt, would hamper their labour rights.

Also, on September 19, 2022, the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, blocked the roads to the local and international airports in Ikeja, Lagos, as part of their mass actions to force the Federal Government to end its rift with the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, to enable them return to school.

The latest rupture in the flow of air travel activities took place at the Terminal Two of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, MMA2, Lagos, where aviation unions shut down the terminal operated by Bicourtney Air Services Limited, BASL, over alleged maltreatment of their members. Bicourtney’s claim that it followed  Labour laws in discharging the services of 34 staff was disputed by the Air Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, ATSSSAN. 

Travellers suffered delayed departures as the airlines which operate at the terminal had to relocate to the General Aviation Terminal, GAT, to process their customers.

Aviation sector workers and their employers must be reminded of the importance of the air transport sector, in case they forget. Air travel, whether domestic or international, is an activity of worldwide implications. The disruption of services, even in a local airport, leads to avoidable suffering of passengers from all walks of life, and massive business losses. It is not healthy for the economic and social interests of the nation.

Disruptions should be rare. Aviation unions should desist from abusing their power of strikes. They should always exhaust all avenues of peaceful resolution and apply the “long rope” principle before taking mass actions. When an organisation has to shed weight to cope with emerging challenges, the unions should act to ensure that it is done justly and in line with the laws.

The same applies to the employers and bosses. Nobody should feel too big to engage in dialogue with the workforce, or intimidate workers because they are “little people”.  These same “little people” have shown they are capable of wielding the big stick. Workers should not be sacked because of involvement in legitimate union activities because the welfare of workers is part of an organisation’s strength. Constructive engagement, not impunity, is needed to foster aviation sector stability.