Aviation workers raise alarm over imminent extinction of sector

• Union calls for government bailout, says Nigeria's airlines are on life support

Aviation workers have cried to the Federal Government to come to the rescue of the sector to prevent the total extinction of the sector which they described as worst hit by the rampaging coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking on behalf of the aviation workers, the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), an affiliate of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) declared that many of the airlines were already on life support prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, stressing that many of the logistics and other allied companies, such as in-flight catering, flight support services, fuel supplies, etc, were equally at the verge of winding up.

The Secretary-General of NUATE, Ocheme Aba, while lamenting the precarious situation the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) had found itself, cited how the authority had been grappling with the heavy burden of maintaining 23 airports across Nigeria of which only two are viable; a responsibility he said was impossible to shirk due to the social-economic importance of maintaining all the airports.

According to Aba, under these circumstances, the pandemic-imposed shutdown cannot but be seen as a killer punch against aviation, to the extent that aviation in Nigeria runs a very high risk of total collapse without urgent and substantial intervention, or bailout, from the Federal Government.

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Aba while admitting that the situation currently faced by aviation was global, which he noted only heightened in Nigeria by historic factors, added: “Based on empirical findings which support the crisis facing aviation organizations, various global institutions such as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the International Air Transport Association (IATA), and even the International Labour Organization (ILO) have all called on governments of all countries to render significant support to their aviation companies to cushion the losses in revenue occasioned by the pandemic.

“The United States of America, several European countries, including the United Kingdom, have already announced generous bailout packages for their aviation companies in response to the emergency. These responses signpost the fact that there will be dire consequences should lethargy and indecision hold Nigeria back from towing this global trend.”

The unionist said it was for the purpose of mitigating the imminent disaster that NUATE made an appeal to elicit Congress’ strong support and positive and urgent actions to prevail on Federal Government to hasten its steps towards releasing a bailout package for the aviation sector in Nigeria.

He, however, advised that the Federal Government should apply methodology that would ensure the mistake of the past is not repeated where airlines could not account for previous aviation intervention that ran into several billions of Naira, saying, “It must not be business as usual”.

His words: “For, there had been two previous such financial interventions in the aviation sector in recent memory, both of which left much to be desired. In those instances, airlines like Arik Air, Kabo Air (defunct), Air Nigeria (defunct), and many others collected billions of Naira supposedly for capital injection into their businesses, but were diverted to personal usages, and callously leaving the airlines to bleed to death.

“The promoters of these airlines then ran away with bloated personal bank accounts and they are walking free till today. This was possible because the airlines were individually owned enterprises without any discernable corporate governance structures.

“Unfortunately, this particular situation of the airlines, in terms of their ownership and governance structures remains largely unchanged today. Therefore, if the same methodology as before were to be used, then we fear that the same undesirable result will accrue. This will be most unhelpful.”

While advising that cash grants should be extremely minimised, or even totally avoided, just as he added that little or no monies should be paid directly to the companies or agencies, Aba further explained: “Rather, debts and other outstanding obligations which constitute overhangs should be carefully determined and paid directly from the intervention fund. Such obligations could include outstanding staff emoluments, operational fees to FAAN and the other agencies, remittances (PenCom, taxes, etc), outstanding scheduled mandatory aircraft maintenance costs, and such other outstanding debits.”

He however, called for a clear conditionality for access to the intervention fund, such as, discernable good corporate governance structure, transparent and accountable process for monitoring implementation of the intervention policies, industrial climate, especially the presence of freedom for employees to freely join trade unions of their choosing, as well as presence of validly negotiated Conditions of Service, accountability for previous interventions where applicable, and such other conditions that may be deemed fit.

NIGERIAN TRIBUNE

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