By Uche Amunike
The Buhari-led government of Nigeria has been given a 14-Day ultimatum, following a nationwide aviation workers protest held to protest against anti-labour clauses in new aviation bills presently awaiting the assent of President Muhammadu Buhari.
The protest was held by the coalition of aviation workers’ union, who have threatened to proceed with the 14-Day industrial action if the federal government does not grant their request for withdrawing the bills.
The coalition is 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).
The aviation workers protest was particularly carried out to decry what they called a subtle attempt by the government to restrain the powers of unions and obliterate unionism in the aviation sector, alleging that unknown people in the sector added repressive clauses into new bills overseeing affairs of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and four other aviation agencies.
Here is what the contentious clauses state: ‘All services which facilitate and maintain the smooth, orderly and safe take-off, flight and landing of aircraft, embarkation and disembarkation and evacuation of passengers and cargo respectively in all aerodromes in Nigeria are hereby designated as essential services pursuant to the provisions of Section 11(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as altered).’
‘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 services specified in subsection (1) of this section from taking part in a strike or other industrial action.’
‘The provisions of the Trade Disputes (Essential Services) Act, Cap. T9, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 shall apply to service in the agency, facilities managed by the agency and in the implementation of this bill. There shall be no strikes, lock-outs, pickets, blockades, service disruptions, etc. of any kind within all facilities managed by the agency and where any labour dispute arises, such dispute shall be resolved by the agency.’
The Secretary-General of NUATE, Ocheme Aba clarified that the clauses in the bills grants powers to the Minister of Aviation to regulate workers and trade unions, in contradiction to the Trade Unions Act 2004, which empowers the Minister of Labour with sole regulated powers over trade union and industrial relations matters in Nigeria.
His words: ‘It is absolutely clear that the contentious clauses smuggled into the aviation agencies’ bills have no moral or legal basis for being there. The lame reference to Section 11(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Public Order and Public Security) is poignantly pretentious.’
‘Its attempt to enable the minister of aviation to usurp the powers of the minister of labour is diabolically disingenuous. And its bold assault on the rights of trade unions and hapless workers renders the intended law a demonstration of an ultimate disservice by public officers. Therefore, the intended laws must be prevented from breathing any air of acceptance.’
The coalition asked the Senate and House Committees on aviation to withdraw the bills and remove the contentious clauses before President Buhari’s approval, even as they asked for the exposure and punishment of the people behind the clauses, adding that obnoxious clauses have no place in the aviation sector and actually conflict with prevailing national and international laws as ratified by Nigeria.