Union leader seeks Buhari’s intervention in airport concession plan

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…calls on FAAN to settle gratuities, pensions of retirees

By NWADIKE UGOCHUKWU, Port Harcourt and ISAAC TERSOO AGBER, Lagos

SINCE the Federal Government issued a communique on privatization of four international airports in the country, there have been discordant tunes from stakeholders and the entire workforce at the airports marked for concession. While few pundits have reacted in support of the proposed concession plan, many airport staff in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja and Kano are wailing in protest to the plan, describing it as “unfavorable and selfish without any viable economic thrust.”

At the Port Harcourt International Airport Thursday 25th August, airport workers, under the aegis of National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) and Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) staged a peaceful demonstration against the proposed concession, calling on the President, Muhammadu Buhari, to intervene in the proposition as they believed it was unfriendly to the aviation sector and ill informed.

Speaking to National Daily, the ATSSSAN union leader, Mr. ChiwenduEmeto, said the protest was not against the plan of the Federal Government to concession the international airports but a wakeup call to the Federal Government to ensure due process is followed and also consider the plight of the airport workers by carrying them along.

He noted that airport workers have contributed immensely to the economic development of the nation via the airports, but now that the government wants to privatize the airports, what would be the fate of the airport workers whose jobs are at stake when the airports are finally privatized?

He recalled that past experiences have proven that airport concessions have serious implications; the whole process is done fraudulently against established statutes. And after concessions, airport workers have no claim of their job positions, Emeto said.

“We are not saying that Government should stop concession process of the airports. We need to know whether they will carry us along. Imagine our retirees over two years they have not been paid their gratuities and pension; it has never happened before. What we are doing is to voice our demands to the Federal Government because the Federal Government knows what is happening.

Emeto warned that Government should not allow greedy politicians to take over the planned concession of the airports, calling on President Buhari to intervene in this matter and address the many issues confronting airport workers in the country.

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He said the strike was decided as an option to stage a peaceful demonstration, but not to disturb the economic activities that are going on at the Port Harcourt International airport.

“We are embarking on a peaceful protest against injustice,” Emeto said. He expressed disappointment over inability of the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to pay gratuities and pensions of retired staff, adding that the management of the Port Harcourt Airport has not been fair with the welfare of the airport workers.

He disclosed that some cartels want to hijack management of the Port Harcourt airport for their selfish reasons, “and they have refused to carry us along,” Emeto lamented.
Meanwhile, at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, a similar incident occurred as all the unions at the airport — ATSSSAN, NUATE and NUP took up placards and chanted solidarity songs in protest against the planned concession.

The unions vehemently kicked against the concession as proposed by government, calling on the government not to concession the honey pots and leave the chafes.According to them, interested concessionaires should be negotiating on the nation’s nonviable airports stating that the viable ones have supported the unviable over the years.

A unionist who spoke to National Daily stated that: “A cartel in government is interested in buying the four (4) viable airports but we are fully mobilized to resist any such move to displace FAAN workers either in part or whole in the name of airport concession.”

The unions claimed that the protest was simultaneously ongoing at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja, Mallam Aminu Kano Airport, Kano and Port Harcourt Airport with the aim to drive their point home.

Workers of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) trooped out en masse to join their various unions leaving offices under lock and key as it affects them directly due to the massive loss of job expected from the concession.

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