Passengers of Bristow Helicopters in Port Harcourt, Rivers state were left stranded as the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers of Nigeria an affiliate of Trade Union Congress, TUC, as early as 6:30am stormed Bristow Helicopters and shut down all its offices in Port Harcourt thereby grounding all flight schedules today.
NAAPEN, Isaac Balami led the protesters along side national officials and the state Chairman of TUC to shut down the operations of Bristow Airlines in Port Harcourt.
According to Balami “For the past ten years our pilots and engineers working with Bristow Helicopters have suffered untold hardship due to discriminatory and slavish policies of the management of Bristow Helicopters. They treat them like they are in a slave camp. You will see a co-pilot who just has 200hrs experience from UK, South Africa and Canada earning far more than their Nigerian counterparts who have been working for years.
“Nigerian pilots and engineers are treated like slaves in their own country. A job that a Nigerian can do they sack him and give it to a foreigner and pay him more. They have been sacking our co-pilots and the employing white men. We are even more competent than them. Today no helicopter of Bristow will fly until the Managing Director comes to answer us. We have also discovered that the management do not care about the welfare of workers. So before it becomes a safety issue they must come and hear us.”
Asked if shutting down the operations of the airline will assuage the feelings of his members, Balami said “This is just a few days warning strike to draw that attention of management to dialogue with us. Bristow operations cover about 60 per cent of the oil and gas sector of our economy, they know the implication of shutting down if they refuse to dialogue with us. If they don’t we’ll continue for the next one year.”
On the issue of challenges facing the company and recent air cashes by the airline, Balami said: “That is part of the problems we are going through. When it happened both passengers and our members are affected. This is why they must talk to us so that we address all the issues. What we have now can put Bristow in a worse situation. What we have are disgruntled engineers and pilots. It is a serious problem we can’t continue to accept the situation. For the safety of our members and passengers who fly every day we cannot accept it.
“We are not saying we want pay rise. We are not saying we want salary increments but what we are saying is we need valid conditions of service in tandem with the labour laws. We also want pay parity. We have other airlines that operate in this country and they obey the labour laws. Those airlines operate within the rules and regulations of this country where captains you are treated as a captains. Captains should be treated fairly whether white or black, they should be treated equally. They should not treat us as slaves in this country”.
Chika Onuegbu, Rivers State Chairman of TUC added that: “We have shut down all the offices of Bristow Helicopters and we have told the management, staff as well as passengers that they cannot go into the company premises.”
Meanwhile, passengers who were stunned by the industrial action were left stranded and confused.