Aviation Unions, SAHCOL Draw Battle Line | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Aviation, Business

Aviation Unions, SAHCOL Draw Battle Line

Posted: May 1, 2015 at 3:56 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Abel Orukpe, Lagos 



For some years now, the two main unions in the aviation industry; the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) and the Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association (ATSSSAN) have been having cordial relations with the Skyway Aviation Handling Company (SAHCOL), one of three ground handling companies in Nigeria.

Mr Oluropo Owolabi is the Managing Director of Skyway Aviation Handling Company (SAHCOL)

Mr Oluropo Owolabi is the Managing Director of Skyway Aviation Handling Company (SAHCOL)

The unions and the ground handling company have co-existed with each of them contributing its quota to the development of the aviation industry. SAHCOL is one of the ground handling companies in the country that handles most of the domestic airlines in the country. ATSSSAN and NUATE are major stakeholders in the industry whose contributions should not be ignored. Besides these unions have members virtually in all the entities in the aviation sector.

The relationship between the unions and SAHCOL have been so cordial to the extent that even the unions have been appealing to the government on behalf of SAHCOL and others  to grant them zero tariffs on the equipment they import into the country just like the ones given to airline operators on aircraft and spares.

The union leader, who spoke to Daily Independent, had contended that the money the ground handling companies spent on equipment is huge and as a result, they need waivers from the Federal Government.

However, the relationship to a very large extent has turned sour, as there is no love lost between the unions and SAHCOL, following the arrest and sack of four union members by the ground handling company.

The issue which started with the unions’ agitation for improved conditions of services for workers took another dimension by way of arrest, dismissal and writing a disclaimer on the members of these unions. Finally, the unions have commenced industrial action by protesting at SAHCOL’s headquarters and have vowed to take the battle to SAHCOL.


The Unions’ Story

Speaking jointly on the issue on Friday, April 24, 2015, the NUATE Assistant General Secretary, Comrade Olayinka Abioye and the Assistant General Secretary, Comrade Captain Tarnong, said that already, four leading union officials of the two unions have been arrested by policemen from the Airport Police Command on the orders of SAHCOL

He listed the names of the arrested union members to include Chairman, ATSSSAN SAHCOL branch, Comrades Aminu Kolawole and the Secretary, Lawson Imotto, while members arrested on the side of NUATE are Chairman, NUATE, SAHCOL branch Comrades Chukwu Jude, and Secretary, Kingsley Ejiogu.

Narrating the workers ordeals, the unions said that the four workers were asked to report to the office of the General Manager, Human Resources, David Olorundade, where their photographs were to be taken by the company’s photographer for placement in the newspapers while the Airport Police Command were formally invited to effect their arrests simply for refusing to sign letters of dismissals prepared against them for undisclosed offences.

They added that only one of the union officials was not arrested while others who have no On Duty Card (ODCs) on them went to their respective beats to bring their cards, adding that when they returned to the office of the general manager, human resources, Comrade Lawson Imotto, who incidentally is the General Secretary of the Airport Command’s Police Community Relations Committee (PCRC) has been arrested and taken to an unknown destination.

“We shall hold the Managing Director and General Manager of SAHCOL, Mr Olu Owolabi responsible for any untoward incidence against any of our union officials” they said.

The two unions said that they had earlier written to the Managing Director of the company, Mr Olu Owolabi, demanding for the resignation of the General Manager, Human Resources, David Olorundade for alleged gross acts of impropriety, victimisation, harassment and violation of the rights of union members to decent wages, lack of review of their conditions of work, casualisation and contract engagements, lack of promotion, stagnation and against unwholesome anti-union hostilities.

The unions stated that when they made request in June 2014, SAHCOL Management had promised severally to meet with the unions for the review of the outdated Conditions of Service but that till date, those promises were not fulfilled.

They stated that last week, in the course of the workers general assembly; also known as congress, to deliberate on welfare issues, one of which was the outstanding severance benefits owed the workers called by the Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE), the managing director was alleged to have personally gone to the meeting to disperse the workers, claiming that they had overstayed the time given to them to hold such a meeting.

The unions said that the general manager human resources did not stop there, as he went further to issue queries to the four union members mentioned earlier.

They wondered why the agitation for improved condition of services for workers who currently earn N30, 000 should be difficult for a company that allegedly gave N100 million to People’s Democratic Party (PDP) for presidential campaign.

The unions lamented that to further make matters worst, SAHCOL on Monday, April 27, published a disclaimer on the four union members and that they have vowed to embark on industrial action any moment from now.


SAHCOL’s Reaction

Explaining its own side of the story, SAHCOL, who did not respond to some of the allegations raised by the unions, said that the four workers that were fired constituted themselves into authority and that they have no respect for constituted authority.

Speaking further, the   General Manager, Corporate Communications, Mr Basil Agboarumi, said that these individuals were invited for a meeting with the management through a memo dated April 13, 2015 and that they failed, neglected and refused to attend the meeting which according to him amounted to gross insubordination and willful disobedience to constituted authority as enshrined in SAHCOL’s condition of service.

SAHCOL, he said places so much value on the welfare of its staff, and that the management of SAHCOL has ensured that salaries are paid as at when due, while every staff is aware of the move by the board to carry out a review of staff incentives after the completion of the new warehouse project.

He however, alleged that recently, the company has been having issues with some of its staff with regards to gross misconduct, acts which can lead to loss of revenue to the company, publication of inciting and derogatory material on the company’s notice board, discrediting the office of the Managing Director with the intent to incite the workforce against the management.

According to him, “these individuals were invited for a meeting with the Management through a memo dated 13th April, 2015 and they failed, neglected and refused to attend the meeting, which amounted to gross insubordination and willful disobedience to constituted authority as enshrined in SAHCOL’s condition of service. In addition, they were invited to appear before a Disciplinary Panel through a memo dated April 22, 2015, and they also refused to attend. SAHCOL consider these issues extensively and therefore submit that the behaviors of the officers amounted to gross misconduct as the relevant sections of our conditions of service indicate”

Agboarumi stated that from their actions, it was conclusively clear that the four officers in question have turned themselves into a parallel government within the company; a situation he said the company cannot tolerate.

He added that SAHCOL is aware that some external forces who are unhappy with SAHCOL’s current achievements are working towards discrediting the company’s successes through blackmail and incitement of the stakeholders against the company, adding that the company will resist any attempt by any group to destabilise it

“As a law abiding and responsive corporate organisation, we shall resist this move within the ambit of the law while we shall continue to do our very best to ensure that SAHCOL remains a staff friendly organisation” Agboarumi said.



Why would SAHCOL publish a disclaimer on its four staff for agitating on behalf of others a review of their conditions of service? Are there some untold stories or under dealings   involving the dismissed workers that SAHCOL management is aware of and is keeping away from the public? Where they involved in any financial scandal? What must have prompted the ground handling company to publish a disclaimer? On the surface, the affected workers were agitating for improved welfare packages. Is there anything wrong with that? If the workers were involved in some under dealings that are inimical to SAHCOL’s image, this is the time to disclose it now that the battle line has been drawn.


Unions’ Reaction after Members Sack

The unions in a statement titled, “SAHCOL Management Sacked Four Union Officials over Demand for Negotiation of Conditions of Service: An Open Recipe to Crisis” said that SAHCOL has stirred the hornet nest.

The unions said that they were shocked that despite efforts by the unions to ensure that industrial harmony, safety and peace is paramount in the aviation industry, the management of SAHCOL is determined to create un-necessary crisis and chaos in the industry.

Olayinka and Tarnong stated that It is not only condemnable but highly reprehensible that SAHCOL went ahead to publicly defame and criminalise four union officials and also published a disclaimer on Monday, April 27, 2015.

They pointed out that the national secretariats of the unions have been demanding for the mandatory review of the conditions of service since June 2014 but that the management has been recalcitrant and unyielding particularly on issues bordering on low slave wage, casualisation and continued degeneration of the welfare and conditions of service of employees.

“We equally un-equivocally condemn the Managing Director’s disruption of the peaceful assembly of workers on Thursday 9th April, 2015, which was meant to proffer solutions to the employees’ efforts to get their five year terminal benefits from the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE)”the unions said.









According to them, “we are disturbed to think that management of SAHCOL may be acting a dubious script to create crisis in the aviation industry since any industrial action by the unions would not only affect airline operations but also invoke untold hardships on the general public”

They called on SAHCOL to immediately resume and conclude the conditions of service as well as reinstate the dismissed workers.

To match their words with action, the unions protested at SAHCOL headquarters on Tuesday, April 28, 2015 chanting solidarity songs and with placards with different inscriptions to drive home their points.

They vowed to ground SAHCOL’s operations unless SAHCOL immediately resume and conclude the conditions of service as well as reinstate the dismissed workers.