Workers at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, have been restive in the past few days. They have caused a lot of disturbances and delays at the airport which happens to be the first point of contact for the international community. The workers under the aegis of Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN), National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) and National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAPPE) are protesting the sack of 62 workers of Bi-Courtney who were said to have been asked to go for partaking in union activities.
The aviation unions have restated their resolve to continue with the shutdown until all the dismissed workers are recalled. To be sure, the right of the unions to protest any action considered antithetical to their well-being is unimpeachable. Since their colleagues were allegedly sacked for engaging in union activities, it would have been unrealistic to expect them not to be gravely concerned about the issue. Ideally, the workers and their employer should have resolved the matter amicably. No matter the degree of disagreement, the parties could have explored the option of alternative dispute resolution, particularly in view of their critical roles in the economy. Sadly, the shutdown commenced despite an order granted by a Federal High Court in a suit filed by Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited (BASL), operators of MMA2, restraining the unions from shutting down activities at the airport. Although it has been called off after three agonising days, the fact that it was staged despite a court order represented impunity on the part of the unions.
Apart from the toll which the three-day shutdown took on the national economy, it disrupted the lives of many Nigerians. Students, people in need of medical care and business men and women could not travel simply because the unions were unwilling to obey a duly obtained court order. Whatever the means by which the eventual truce was sought and obtained, it should not have been at the expense of innocent citizens. This is why the unions must account for their disobedience to the Federal High Court’s order which led to the illegal shutdown of the MMIA. This is simply a law and order issue and if examples are not made of the culprits, it could lead to a repeat in other sectors.
It is high time a veritable check was placed on the tendency for impunity by workers’ unions. Democracy cannot thrive when workers take delight in flagrant disobedience of court orders. It is crucial to underscore the integrity of the law and the judiciary in relation to people’s conduct either as individuals or groups. For instance, it ought to occur to the workers to react formally to the court order by stating their own side of the story and exploring the options provided by the law. Embarking on a shutdown in the face of a subsisting court order amounted to contempt and the unions must be sanctioned accordingly.
For far too long, the country has suffered incalculable damage as a result of irresponsible unionism. Unions refuse to accord the law the respect it deserves, preferring instead to tread the path of anarchy just because their previous actions had gone without appropriate sanction in the face of sociopolitical expediency. But that does not make such actions right or tolerable, especially in the case of the recent MMIA shutdown in which the entire country suffered monumental losses, economically and in terms of the national image that was sullied by the unions taking the law into their own hands. Their action gave the impression that the country lacked order.
Workers’ unions in the country must always be mindful of the legal and social implications of their actions. In this regard, it is disconcerting to note that the rule of “no work, no pay” has hardly been effected following the various strikes. This needless hesitation must have emboldened the unions to hold their employers and the country to ransom at will.