• Passengers stranded in Lagos
• Our workers are still the best paid, says management
Union of pilots and engineers yesterday, made good its threat to picket Bristow Helicopters’ operations nationwide over disagreements on wages, the applicable rate of exchange and other alleged infractions.
The workers, who insisted on the review of N345 to N355/$1 in the pay package, met denial of the management, with the latter citing harsh operational and economic realities in the COVID-19 era.
The workers, under the aegis of National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE), had lately engaged the management over diverse welfare issues. The grey areas include the management’s proposal to suspend negotiation on Condition of Service (COS), alleged subversion of established terms of agreement with the workers, refusal to train qualified persons for Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL), and failure to fully reimburse individuals who have successfully completed their ATPL through self-sponsorship.
Not making headway, the union resorted to industrial action in protest. Beginning from daybreak yesterday, scores of union members with the support of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), barricaded all the access gates into the airline’s head office at Lagos airport, shutting everyone including booked passengers out of the premises.
NAAPE Public Relations Officers, Frank Igwe, said picketing was the last resort as the union had exhausted all avenues of bringing all their pains to the management’s attention.
Igwe said: “People may think that we are overbearing in our demands, but we are not asking for too much. We are asking for correction on the disparity between welfare of Nigerian pilots and engineers and that of their expatriate counterparts. Bring it to a minimum value.
“One funny thing is that these people you are seeing (expatriates), they learn from us the nationals. Meanwhile, they (management) give them preferential treatment. They give them accommodation, pick them from their houses to the office, while our people are there suffering.”
One of the pilots, Captain Emmanuel Omokore added that they get paid at the rate of N345 per dollar, yet the same staffers were expected to buy tickets at N460/$ from the same salary.
“Is that fair? Some were even asked to buy at NAFEX rate, which we are asking the management to give us, yet they refused us what the expatriates get. Meanwhile, the same expatriates come into this country, get trained here and get their full pay. We, the nationals don’t get the same treatment. Why?”
A pilot with Bristow, Capt. Victor Olorunyomi, said they deserve the right to make good demand under the law and get fair attention.
“But, where you have a situation whereby you are compelled to forgo your rights and condition of service, then there is a problem. As NAAPE, the objective is not to disrupt business but to work as partners in the organisation. At the end of the day, it is all about continuity, and sustainability of the business. What you see today is not gangsterism, but an expression of the fundamental human rights.”
Bristow management, however, faulted the allegations, saying the claims were contrary to provisions of the 2019 Agreement between the two parties.
Management said contrary to NAAPE’s assertion that all negotiations had broken down, the company remains willing and prepared to continue dialogue with the union, but it elected to abandon negotiations to embark on a strike action, which is both illegal and unwarranted.
According to the airline, Bristow proposed to put a pause on the Pilots and Engineers Conditions of Service (COS) negotiations recognizing the recent global outbreak of COVID 19, the plummeting of global oil prices, and the mandatory 22 per cent OPEC cuts to Nigeria’s crude oil production – all which have had a significant impact on our business and capacity utilisation in Nigeria.
“It is important to state that notwithstanding the economic challenges in the aviation industry since the spread of COVID-19 Bristow pilots and engineers have remained the best paid in their industry and have not suffered any reduction or change in their salaries, at a time when operations have reduced by 50 per cent.”
“In the 2019 Agreement, the parties agreed on the relevant exchange rate at which the salaries of Bristow Pilots and Engineers would be calculated. In the agreement, both parties agreed on N345/$1, at a time when the CBN exchange rate was N306/$1, with a provision for adjustment if the NAFEX rate moves in either direction by 20 per cent or more.
“Currently, the NAFEX rate has not reached the agreed threshold. Bristow has fully complied with the provisions of the agreement with NAAPE. By its demand, NAAPE is seeking to act contrary to the legally binding agreement it signed voluntarily,” the statement read in part.