The National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE), on Thursday shut down the operations of Bristow and Caverton Helicopters at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos.
The union also ordered its members in both airlines to withdraw their services indefinitely until all the pending issues involving their welfare are resolved.
NAAPE said the protest was over the pay disparity and poor conditions of service for Nigerian pilots and engineers compared to their expatriate counterparts, who work for the same firm.
It said its affiliate, the United Labour Congress (ULC), had also directed that aviation fuel would not be supplied to the Bristow Group during the period in solidarity with the workers.
The workers, led by Abednego Galadima, president NAAPE, , and Didi Adodo, general secretary of ULC, barricaded the premises of both airlines at about 7 a.m.
They carried placards with various inscriptions such as “We say no to forced labour’’ , ” Racism in Bristow must stop” and “Stop abusing and violating our rights and privileges.”
Galadima said NAAPE and Bristow had been in a frosty relationship for over four years in spite of several interventions by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, the FederaI Ministry of Interior, and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
Galadima accused the Bristow management of discriminating against indigenous pilots and engineers and abuse of Nigeria’s expatriates quota law.
He alleged that the management had continued to deny qualified national engineers promotion into senior positions while continually training expatriates to hold same positions in perpetuity.
“By the records, the expatriate /national ratio in their bases are as follows: Escravos (20:1 for both pilots and engineers) and NAF Base (3:1 for both pilots and engineers).
“Lagos (3:1 for both pilots and engineers) and Eket ( 2:1 for both pilots and engineers).
“This gross dis-equilibrum in favour of expatriates cannot by any stretch of imagination be given any semblance of compliance with Nigeria’s expatriate policy document which requires that there shall be two Nigerian understudies for every expatriate position.
“Therefore, the least position acceptable to the law is ratio 1:2 in favour of Nigerians,” Galadima said.
According to him, the management also refused to implement the negotiated Conditions of Service and had declared some Nigerians redundant without any justification. He also accused the management of victimising union members leading to the arbitrary sack of a staff.
Galadima, therefore, called on the Federal Government and its agencies to urgently intervene in the affairs of the Bristow Group in the interest of the development of the aviation sector.
On Carverton Helicopters, he noted that the company was picketed due to the failure of its management to remit pension deducted from staff salaries for over two years.
He added that the airline management had also refused to renegotiate the Conditions of Service which had already expired despite several appeals by NAAPE.
Also, Adodo noted that the ULC was fully in support of the strike, stressing that the rights of Nigerians must be protected at all times.
He urged the workers to remain steadfast in the struggle for improved conditions of service and assured them that all affiliates of ULC were behind them.
However, some police officers from the Lagos Airport Police Command, were deployed to monitor the protest to forestall any breakdown of law and order.
The pilots and engineers of Bristow, in 2016 had embarked on a two-day warning strike by suspending their operations.
In its reaction, the management of Bristow Helicopters said the industrial action was without due notification to Bristow and in violation of the relevant labour laws.
In a statement released, the management accused NAAPE’s leadership of inaccurate allegations to support their action.
It said: “For the record, Bristow has acted (and will continue to act) in accordance with all national laws relating to its operations and with respect to its personnel. In addition, since its inception, Bristow continues to be the leading recruiter and trainer of national engineers and pilots in Nigeria, many of whom have since progressed to take up very senior executive positions within the Bristow Group and other companies operating within Nigeria and internationally.
“We will continue with our resolute commitment to the promotion of Nigerian local content, capability and capacity within our industry, despite the very challenging economic climate.
“The issues raised by NAAPE have already been subject of ongoing discussions between NAAPE and Bristow; it is therefore very disappointing that NAAPE has elected to take this premature action contrary to the ongoing dialogue and spirit of partnership that exists between the parties.
“Notwithstanding, Bristow will continue to pursue the path of constructive engagement, in a way that is safe, sustainable and legally compliant”,