The unions in the aviation sector on Thursday threatened to ground flight operations at all terminals of the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA), Lagos over the sacking of their members by Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited (BASL).
The unions issued the warning on the second day of their ongoing picketing of MMA2, operated by BASL, whose management allegedly sacked 24 employees for indicating interest to unionise.
The unions are: The National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) and the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE).
As early as 6:30am, the union members in their hundreds continued their siege at both the entry and exit points of MMA2, which is Nigeria’s only privately owned terminal.
However, the BASL management barricaded the two entry and exit points with trucks while some security operatives were seen with sniffer dogs to prevent the protesters from gaining access into the terminal building.
The protesters were seen carrying different placards with different inscriptions such as “We the victimised Bi-Courtney ATSSSAN branch, Say No To Slavery, Injustice, and Victimisation, While we Say Yes To Unionism, Good Working Condition and Job Security”.
Others inscriptions were “Unionism must stand in Bi-Courtney”, “Babalakin is not above the law”, “A case of a Nigerian enslaving Nigerians”, “No to One Month Salary as Gratuity in Bi-Courtney”.
The protest also caused heavy vehicular traffic around the airport, which affected other parts of Ikeja and the Agege Motor Road.
Airlines affected by the action included Arik Air, Medview Airline, Azman Air, Max Air, Dana Air and Aero Contractors, which operate flights from the terminal.
There was heavy presence of security operatives including the Police and officers of the Nigeria Air Force in the area during the protest.
Speaking on behalf of the unions, Mr Frances Akinjole, Deputy General Secretary, ATSSSAN, told NAN that the unions were ready to shutdown other terminals at Lagos Airport if the company refused to recall the affected workers.
Akinjole said from the situation on ground, the BASL management was not ready to dialogue with the unions on the issue of the sacked workers.
“The present protest is the only option left for us but as you can see now, our protest is not even yielding any result because the management has decided to barricaded their own company with two heavy trucks by themselves.
“This means they are ready and prepared to shutdown the terminal instead of addressing the issue because if the shutdown on Wednesday had impact on them, then they would have settled for dialogue but they are not ready for it.
“We have been concentrating on MMA2 since Wednesday and today but if it should go beyond this week then the whole of this Lagos airport will also be affected,” he said.
Akinjole noted that unions and other aviation stakeholders made efforts to dialogue with the BASL management but unfortunately their attempts were rebuffed.
He argued that some of the workers affected by the sack had earlier been given positive appraisals by the company, hence the only basis for their sack was because they wanted to join unions in the sector.
Akinjole apologised to airlines, business owners and travelers for the inconveniences caused by the closure of the airport, adding that the unions were only fighting for justice for their members.
However, the spokesperson for BASL, Mr Steve Omolale, told NAN that the action of the unions was contemptuous because they flouted a subsisting court order.
Omolale said BASL would not join issues with the unions since the matter was already before a competent court.
According to him, Justice I.N. Buba of a Federal High Court in Lagos, in suit number FHC/L/CS/16412/18, granted an order restraining the unions from carrying out their threats of disrupting the activities of the terminal.
He said: “So their going ahead with the action is a clear violation of the interim order of the court.
“We have applied for a Certified True Copy of the order and will soon make it available to the Police and other law enforcement agencies who are on top of the situation.
“We have also asked the bailiff to serve the order on the unions and once this is done, we are sure normalcy will return because they will be forced to vacate our premises.”