THERE is a protracted controversy in the aviation industry over the declaration of it as an essential service sector. This is mainly because of the lack of trust between the employer/regulatory groups and their workers’ unions.
In September 2022, that coalition of aviation workers’ unions, made up of the National Union of Air Transport Employees, NUATE; Air Transport Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, ATSSSAN; National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers, NAAPE; Association of Nigerian Aviation Professionals, ANAP; and Amalgamated Unions of Public Corporations, Civil Service Technical and Recreational Services Employees, AUPCTRE, went on strike over a Bill seeking to declare their jobs as essential service.
Their grouse was that such a declaration would cripple their right to go on strike. On the other hand, their counterparts of the Aviation Round Table, ART, asked the Federal Government to declare the sector as an essential service because it was in line with the global best practice. They made the call during their recent Quarter One Breakfast Business Meeting in Abuja.
There is no doubt that aviation is an essential service. The sector is part of a worldwide-networked industry to which Nigeria belongs. There is only one set of rules for the whole world as set out by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, ICAO, a United Nations agency.
Everyday, people come from all parts of the world for business, tourism and diplomatic activities. It does not make sense for such a sector to be left to the whims of local Labour unions to withdraw their services just as they wish. Aviation is too important to the business life of the nation to be toyed with.
However, we do understand why the aviation sector workers take exception to the declaration of their services as “essential”. Strikes are the only ways they can force their employers to the conference table to discuss their welfare and labour rights.
In Nigeria, governments and employers look down on workers, ride roughshod over the rights of their members and disrespect signed agreements. Most of the strikes are due to these factors.
However, cases have sometimes arisen when union leaders order the disruption of services over matters that could easily be negotiated. Sometimes mere ego comes into the picture, grounding services. This imposes great hardship, inconvenience and loss of business opportunities on domestic and international travellers.
We have to recognise the fact that the strike instrument at the hand of aviation workers’ unions remains unassailable in forcing their demands through. Declaration or non-declaration as essential work won’t change anything. There is no substitute to carrying the unions along, respecting the rights of those who operate in the industry and continuously negotiating and working together on solutions to problems. Responsibility, not power show, is paramount.