As early as 2am Monday morning, pilots and engineers barricaded all the access gates of Bristow Helicopters in an indefinite strike with cars stopping any entry and exit from the company over unresolved differences with the company management.
The union, in collaboration with its parent body, the Nigeria Labour conference, converged at the airlines gates in Lagos chanting labour songs and insisting that their action, which is assumed to be nationwide, would continue until management listens to the voice of reason.
This is just as the management of Bristow Helicopters said it has been made aware of the action but says it is contrary to the provisions of the Nigerian labour laws and practices further insisting that negotiations have not broken down, and remains willing to continue dialogue with NAAPE which they say abandoned negotiations
NAAPE in the letter yesterday highlighted some of the issues under contention which included management’s proposal to suspend the COS negotiations and their deliberate subversion of established terms of agreement with NAAPE, Failure to train qualified persons for ATPL and failure to fully reimburse individuals who have successfully completed their ATPL through self sponsorship among other things.
Speaking on the infractions by the company, NAAPE Public Relations Officers, Comrade Frank Igwe described the picketing as a last resort saying the union has done all it could to bring their attention to the pains of their members but management remained adamant.
“People may think we are asking for obvious demands, but we are not asking for much we are asking for the correction on the disparity between welfare of the nationals pilots and engineers and that of their expatriate counterpart. Bring it to a minimum value. One funny thing is that these people you are seeing, they learn from us the nationals and meanwhile they give them preferential treatment. They give them accommodation, pick them from their house to the office while our people are there suffering.”
An executive of NAAPE Bristow branch and a pilot with company, Captain Victor Toluwa Olorunyomi said:”I don’t see it as much of a problem, it is what it is. People reserve the right to ask for what is their right and I think that is what is acceptable within the boundary of the law. Where you have a situation whereby, you are compelled to forgo your right then there is a problem where employees are compelled to stop talking or ask for what rightfully belongs to them in terms of COS, I think that’s telling you to keep quiet and not exercise your freedom.”
“As NAAPE, the objective is not to disrupt business but to work as partners to organization, if NAAPE sees what is not right, it is only proper for them to come forward and say it is important you do what is right. At the end of the day, its all about continuity, sustainability of the business. What you see today is not gangsterism but an expression of the fundamental human rights.”
Also speaking, Captain Emmanuel Omokore added:” You can imagine when you are being paid at N345 per dollar and then the same staff is asked to buy at ticket at N460 per dollar from his salary is that fair. Some are even asked to buy at NAFEX rate which we are even asking for them to give us and they refused to give to us while the expatriates come into this country,. They get trained here and get some of their qualifications here they pay them full and we in our country, they decide not to and they still want to short change us
In response to some of the weighty allegations, Bristow management released a statement which indicated: , the airline rejected the allegations raised by NAAPE in their entirety noting that most of the issues being advanced by NAAPE are contrary to the provisions of the 2019 Agreement and the company will request that NAAPE complies with the terms of that agreement.
The statement in part clarified,”Contrary to NAAPE’s assertion that all negotiations have broken down, the company remains willing and prepared to continue dialogue with NAAPE but NAAPE have elected to abandon negotiations to embark on a strike action which is both illegal and unwarranted.
“NAAPE has highlighted some issues as being “under contention” and it is necessary to clarify these issues, most of which arise out of an agreement executed in 2019 between Bristow and NAAPE (“the 2019 Agreement”).
“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% OPEC cuts to Nigeria’s crude oil production – All which have had a significant impact on our business and capacity utilization 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%.
“In the 2019 Agreement the parties agreed the relevant exchange rate at which the salaries of Bristow Pilots and Engineers would be calculated. In the agreement, both parties agreed on NGN345/$1 (at a time when the CBN exchange rate was NGN306/$1) with a provision for adjustment if the NAFEX rate moves in either direction by 20% 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.
Notwithstanding NAAPE’s position, Bristow remains willing to engage and dialogue on the issues. It requests that NAAPE does the same,’ the statement read in part.