The labour crisis rocking Nigeria’s second largest airline, Aero Contractors, has now entered day fourteen and many Nigerians are asking: “Why is everyone keeping quiet?”
Aero Contractors was grounded on 13 March when workers went on strike over poor conditions of service and a plan by the management to outsource jobs.
It all started on 14 February when 42 drivers at Aero Contractors were outsourced to a company called Remloyd Tours and Car Hire Service, a flagrant violation of extant laws.
Workers were already exasperated after Aero reduced the negotiated and approved salaries of pilots and engineers as well as allowances for the cabin crew, without any discussion with the workers’ unions.
All this, including the fact that workers had not been promoted for five years, reached a boiling point early in March when other workers apart from the drivers, learnt that they too may soon be outsourced to other companies.
On 13 March, all the workers went on strike in protest and demanded that the Director, Human Resources and Corporate Services, whom they considered the architect of the harsh policies, be sacked. Aero then rushed to the National Industrial Court and secured an injunction restraining the workers from embarking on strike. The workers ignored the court injunction and Aero reacted by dismissing at least 655 of them the same day.
On 21 March, the National Industrial Court ruled that the status quo be maintained while the case is in court and adjourned the matter till May.
However, the next day, Aero refused to let the workers resume work and asked all of them to re-apply, including those who have worked with the airline for about ten years.
Aero then withdrew its case in court and began employing new staff while striking workers have vowed that Aero planes will remain at aircraft stands until the crisis is resolved.
There have since been daily protests for two weeks now and passengers have been finding it hard to board planes.
Arik Air and Aero Contractors account for 90 percent of passenger traffic. With Aero grounded, Dana, Med-view, IRS, and Chanchangi airlines have been finding it hard to fill the gap and many passengers remain stranded at airports, even with their money.
The situation may get worse over the weekend when Nigerians begin to travel for Easter festive season.
We find it hard to believe that since the crisis started fourteen days ago, the Ministry of Aviation has not waded into the matter, and the management of Aero Contractors has allowed things to degenerate to this abysmal level.
The Minister of Aviation, Mrs. Stella Oduah, has been removing decrepit terminal buildings across the nation, but with no planes in the skies and with our airspace still not fully covered by the Total Radar Coverage of Nigeria, TRACON, her efforts may be futile.
Over the years, many airlines have collapsed, with the latest being Air Nigeria, which was grounded last year. Those who worked there have been thrown into the labour market ever since. The same situation seems to be repeating itself at Aero Contractors, which owes government billions of naira and has now lost hundreds of millions of naira to the latest crisis.
It is our position that Aero Contractors should let its workers resume, while negotiation with the unions are ongoing. However, if the airline can no longer work with the striking workers, their benefits should be paid in accordance with labour laws before they are asked to go. This is, to us, the wise way to go.