May day 2021 address by the national president of national union of air transport employees (NUATE), Comrade Ben K. Nnabue
1. It is with mixed feelings that I address you all, great members of our great union, on this 2021 May Day celebration. On the one hand, the crisis occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the world of work, particularly that of aviation. And Nigeria is no exception. On the other hand, we are exceedingly grateful to our Maker for sparing us till date and granting us the hope that we shall outlive the pandemic. Considering the status of aviation workers as being in the frontline of the pandemic, we should celebrate the fact that our losses in human elements has been relatively minimal. May I request that whoever is reading this should please take a minute at this point to put in mind our colleagues who succumbed to the coronavirus and their mourning family members. To our God we commit their souls.
2. I make this address at a moment of monumental challenges facing trade unions, ours even more so. At this time, almost all facets of our movement are in dire straits. In the public sector, the biggest challenges are the twin issues of the long-delayed Conditions of Service and the non-implementation of the minimum wage for two years running. And in the private sector, the challenges are in wage cuts, redundancies, and leaves without pay (or with very little pay). Whereas, the private sector challenges are direct outcomes of the pandemic, the public sector issues have their root causes in heartlessness of the Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission and the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation as the issue of Conditions of Service has been with us for upwards of seven years.
3. Under my leadership however, the private sector issues are being confronted head on through pragmatic, systematic and strategic trade union practice that focuses on measurable results. It is to the credit of our approach that today, the only visible signs of crisis are in Turkish Airlines and Arik Air. While we acknowledge that serious industrial relations situations exist in practically every Branch of the Union, we cannot fail to see the fact that these issues are being doggedly curtailed through the efforts of the National Secretariat working assiduously with NAC and the branch leaderships. While we look forward to the resolutions of the Turkish Airlines and Arik Air imbroglios in the next few days, we cannot but call on all NUATE structures nationwide to be on red alert as any further slip-ups by the Managements of these organizations will definitely amount to taking us for a ride and will attract counter measures from the labour movement with maximum force.
4. We have persistently pointed out the folly of one-man-show in the governance of the sector. As we all know, there being no governing boards for all the agencies in aviation, and the CEOs being direct employees of the Minister of Aviation, and the Minister being the Chairman of all the so-called Interim Boards, the affairs of the entire aviation industry has been contrived to be totally in the hands of one man. This is extremely dangerous, preposterous and truly objectionable. All our protestations on the subject over the past years have fallen on deaf ears. That stakeholders in the industry have tolerated this circumstance for all of six years is quite honestly incomprehensible.
5. Whereas a State government, Akwa Ibom, has since successfully launched its own airline without any fanfare, which is fast becoming the industry leader, our Country has woefully failed in its attempt to birth a national carrier after over ten years of labour and colossal financial waste. The proposed aircraft leasing company, national aircraft Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility and aerotropolis development, all flagship programs of this federal administration, have all suffered paralysis, despite massive support from all stakeholders and informed Nigerians. They all followed the same path; bitten by the bug of hidden agenda, suffered the ailment of ill-motive to death, presently in the coffins of infidelity to the national cause, and waiting to be buried in the grave of onemanism. I enjoy all NUATE members to join hands in prayer for a better tomorrow for our dear nation’s aviation industry.
6. The case of selective airports concession is already well told. Our irreversible opposition to the unjustifiable program is based on unassailable evidence of unwholesomeness and is well documented. We call on the National assembly, the Federal Executive Council and the Presidency to work together to put a halt to the travesty called airports concession and save our dear Nation from further draining of the national treasury.
7. It is imperative that I use this medium to express our frustration over the unjust treatment meted to workers of aviation agencies by the Salaries and Wages Commission and the Head of Service. We have become tired of begging for our rights in respect of the stated issues of Conditions of Service and minimum wage which has been denied aviation workers for two years running. And we have lost our patience on the matter. Accordingly, all our branches in the agencies concerned should follow the example of NCAA and convene their respective JAC meetings for the purpose of mobilizing for industrial action, as several ultimatum on the matter have gone by without any result whatsoever. Actions will be ordered as from 17th of May 2021.
8. It is truly regrettable that the Federal Government intervention fund for the aviation sector was shared among aviation companies with no impact on aviation workers. Till date, large numbers of aviation workers remain on furlough leave, many of them with no pay, while many others receive as low as 20% of their salaries. This is very disheartening. It is our plea that the Government takes another look at this unfortunate situation with a view to compelling urgent remedial actions on the part of the companies.
9. Relatedly, we find no justification whatsoever for the continuation of any kind of forced leave on the basis of the pandemic as business in the local aviation scene has now surpassed pre-covid levels. Those companies that have kept their workers away from work without pay while enjoying the current boom in air travel are guilty of plain wickedness and slave labour for utilizing fewer workers for higher volumes of work. We call on the regulatory authorities to urgently bring pressure to bear on this unbearable condition to achieve some resolution, as we call on the managements of the culprit organizations to avail themselves of some conscience so as to revert to normal personnel deployment. We plead.
10. It is of vital importance to draw the attention of Government to the nexus between the large-scale redundancies, leave without pay, salary cuts, etc and aviation security. This is against the background of current national insecurity. Therefore, it is our considered view that Government must tailor its financial intervention in the sector to mitigate these prevalent unsavory indices a vital point that ought to have been given prime consideration in the last intervention but was inexplicably overrun by the urge to share. This, of course, speaks to the need for further interventions. We plead.
11. Comrades, as you all can see from all around the world and in our Country, the coronavirus is still with us. It definitely pays to be careful. Please obey all NCDC COVID-19 guidelines and have your family members do same. As at the moment, the only assurance of freedom from the virus is to take the vaccine. I enjoy all Comrades to do so urgently. It is indeed safe.
12. I am happy to welcome our new members from the Accidents Investigation Bureau (AIB) to the great family of NUATE. The addition of the AIB branch to our fold is very gratifying, considering the flagship role the Bureau plays in the Nigerian aviation scene. We look forward to offering the Branch every assistance to enable its officers outgrow the normal teething problems. The program of expansion shall continue vigorously, and all the airlines who still insist on keeping their workers captive by resisting the unionization of their workforce shall soon see the wrath of our Union.
13. I cannot end this address without a grand salute to all cadres of the leadership of our great union. To my fellow NAC members, I say thank you for joining hands with me in the task of building a virile union and for effective representation. To all our branch leaders I say thank you for the support and for being such great foot soldiers. I assure you that because we are united we cannot be defeated. Therefore, let us eschew bitterness, rancor and divisive behavior. The times call for all hands to be on deck.
14. I seize this opportunity to call on all aviation concerns as well as the Ministry of Aviation to accept our hand of fellowship so that together we can remove all clogs on the wheel of industrial harmony, remove the obstacles to progress, and join efforts to move the various organizations and aviation in Nigeria to greater heights.
Long live NUATE!, Long live aviation! Long live Nigeria! Comrade Ben K. Nnabue, National President, National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE)