By Adekunle Williams and Solomon Asowata
Lagos – The National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE) on Thursday shut down the operations of Bristow and Caverton Helicopters at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the union also ordered its members in both airlines to withdraw their services indefinitely until all the pending issues involving their welfare are resolved.
NAAPE said its affiliate, the United Labour Congress (ULC), had also directed that aviation fuel would not be supplied to the Bristow Group during the period in solidarity with the workers.
The workers, who were led by the NAAPE President, Mr Abednego Galadima, and the General Secretary of ULC, Mr Didi Adodo, barricaded the premises of both airlines at about 7 a.m.
They carried placards with various inscriptions such as “We say no to forced labour’ ‘, ” Racism in Bristow must stop” and “Stop abusing and violating our rights and privileges “.
However, some police officers from the Lagos Airport Police Command, were deployed to monitor the protest to forestall any breakdown of law and order.
Addressing newsmen, Galadima said NAAPE and Bristow had been in a frosty relationship for over four years in spite of several interventions by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, the FederaI Ministry of Interior, and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
Galadima accused the Bristow management of discriminating against indigenous pilots and engineers and abuse of Nigeria’s expatriates quota law.
He alleged that the management had continued to deny qualified national engineers promotion into senior positions while continually training expatriates to hold same positions in perpetuity.
“By the records, the expatriate /national ratio in their bases are as follows : Escravos (20:1 for both pilots and engineers) and NAF Base (3:1 for both pilots and engineers).
“Lagos (3:1 for both pilots and engineers) and Eket ( 2:1 for both pilots and engineers).
“This gross dis-equilibrum in favour of expatriates cannot by any stretch of imagination given any semblance of compliance with Nigeria’s expatriate policy document which requires that there shall be two Nigerian understudies for every expatriate position.
“Therefore, the least position acceptable to the law is ratio 1:2 in favour of Nigerians, ” Galadima said.
According to him, the management also refused to implement the negotiated Conditions of Service and had declared some Nigerians redundant without any justification.
He also accused the management of victimising union members leading to the arbitrary sack of a staff.
Galadima, therefore, called on the Federal Government and its agencies to urgently intervene in the affairs of the Bristow Group in the interest of the development of the aviation sector.
On Carverton Helicopters, he noted that the company was picketed due to the failure of its management to remit pension deducted from staff salaries for over two years.
He added that the airline management had also refused to renegotiate the Conditions of Service which had already expired despite several appeals by NAAPE.
Also, Adodo noted that the ULC was fully in support of the strike, stressing that the rights of Nigerians must be protected at all times.
He urged the workers to remain steadfast in the struggle for improved Conditions of Service and assured them that all affiliates of ULC were behind them.
A reliable source from Bristow Group, however, told NAN that the management was desirous of resolving the issues amicably and had invited the labour leaders for a meeting on Thursday afternoon.