Flights at the international wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos were for several hours disrupted yesterday following a strike action by operators of the belt conveyor to protest against alleged unpaid salaries.
The workers, in the employ of OTIS Nigeria Limited, a private company engaged to maintain and operate the carousel, alleged that they had not been paid in the last eight months, because the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) was owing the contractor.
But FAAN, which manages all 26 airports nationwide, denied owing the contractor, explaining that the industrial action was due to a “small misunderstanding”. The operators are critical to the quick movement of check-in luggage between the airport and aircraft, hence, what started as an indefinite strike immediately left boarding airlines and passengers stranded.
The Guardian learnt that agents of some airlines with assistance from ground handling companies later switched to the manual movement of luggage, but the need to have the bags identified by passengers turned chaotic at the airport.
Among the airlines delayed yesterday are Virgin Atlantic Airways, Qatar Airways, Kenya Airlines and Med-View Airline, as none could leave without passengers’ luggage.Whereas the strike was short-lived and called off around noon, the backlog of stranded luggage both at the departure and arrival ends of the busy airport took hours to sort, leaving some airlines waiting.
One of the workers said the industrial action was the decision of their management “since FAAN has refused to pay us for eight months now”. He added that the amount was huge and “it is affecting all of us. We have families too, so we cannot just continue this way.”
It was further gathered that a disagreement between FAAN and the contractor has dragged on for a while, with the agency insisting on the replacement of the contractor. The company was engaged in 2012 by the then Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah.
A source close to the terminal said: “The contractor has been on the issue with FAAN for several months, but the feeler they receive is that FAAN may not be willing to continue with the contractual agreement as the contractor was brought on board in 2012 by Stella Oduah.
“The problem we have is that most of these companies are owned by those who contracted them while they use some persons as fronts. You will recall that the Minister of State for Aviation, Mr. Hadi Sirika recently called for a review of the concession agreements in the sector and OTIS is one of the companies affected by this directive.”
The Spokesperson of FAAN, Henrietta Yakubu, denied claims that the contractor was owed to warrant a strike by its workers.Yakubu said the development was due to a misunderstanding, perhaps between the contractor and its employees, “but I have confirmed from the Director of Finance that FAAN is not owing them”.
“Right now, the misunderstanding has been resolved and they are back to work and flight operations are going on as planned,” Yakubu said.Efforts to reach representative of OTIS Nigeria Limited were unsuccessful. Some of the workers who resumed services yesterday afternoon, however, said they had been ordered to suspend the strike by their employer, with an assurance that they would soon be paid.