Aviation workers under the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE) have shut the operations of Bristow Helicopters across the country owing to a pay disparity.
The association claimed the management has been unfair to Nigerian staff who do the same job as the expatriates but earn less.
During the demonstration, the workers were seen singing solidarity songs at the Head Office of Bristow Helicopters in Lagos which has been shut down.
They accused the company of paying expatriates their full remuneration in dollars but insisted on benchmarking salaries of national pilots and engineers to an obsolete rate of N345 per dollar, saying it was not obtainable on any legal foreign exchange window in the world.
The protesters also claimed that Bristow has refused to train qualified persons for Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL) and failed to fully reimburse individuals who have successfully completed their ATPL through self-sponsorship.
According to them, this is a deviation from the agreement in place at the time and disproportionate matching and capped reimbursement cash figure for self-sponsored pilots on ATPL with an employment bond of N30 million.
They accused the company of odious laying off of young cadet and trainee engineers after several years of tearful sacrificial toiling on the basis of a promised career in the company.
The workers also claimed that they have consistently engaged the management of the company to address the issues raised but such efforts have failed.
They accused the company of discrimination and victimisation, stressing that members were no longer mentally conditioned to safely deliver their professional obligations.
In its reaction, the management of Bristow Helicopters denied the allegations and described the strike by the workers as illegal.
According to the company, the action of the workers runs contrary to the provisions of the Nigerian Labour Laws and Practices.
In a statement, it also faulted the claims by the striking workers that all negotiations have broken down.
The company’s management, however, said it remained committed to continuing the dialogue with the association.
Read the full statement from the company below:
We have been made aware of a notice of indefinite strike by the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE) to commence at 00hours on 3rd August 2020 contrary to the provisions of the Nigerian Labour Laws and Practices.
Contrary to NAAPE’s assertion that all negotiations have broken down, the company remains willing and prepared to continue dialogue with NAAPE but NAAPE have elected to abandon negotiations to embark on a strike action which is both illegal and unwarranted.
NAAPE has highlighted some issues as being “under contention” and it is necessary to clarify these issues, most of which arise out of an agreement executed in 2019 between Bristow and NAAPE (“the 2019 Agreement”).
Bristow proposed to put a ‘pause’ on the Pilots and Engineers Conditions of Service (COS) negotiations recognizing the recent global outbreak of COVID 19, the plummeting of global oil prices and the mandatory 22% OPEC cuts to Nigeria’s crude oil production – All which have had a significant impact on our business and capacity utilization in Nigeria.
It is important to state that notwithstanding the economic challenges in the aviation industry since the spread of COVID-19 Bristow pilots and engineers have remained the best paid in their industry and have not suffered any reduction or change in their salaries, at a time when operations have reduced by 50%.
In the 2019 Agreement, the parties agreed the relevant exchange rate at which the salaries of Bristow Pilots and Engineers would be calculated. In the agreement, both parties agreed on NGN345/$1 (at a time when the CBN exchange rate was NGN306/$1) with a provision for adjustment if the NAFEX rate moves in either direction by 20% or more.
Currently, the NAFEX rate has not reached the agreed threshold. Bristow has fully complied with the provisions of the agreement with NAAPE. By its demand, NAAPE is seeking to act contrary to the legally binding agreement it signed voluntarily.
In the signed 2019 agreement, Bristow committed to full sponsorship of up to four senior first officers SFOs within a financial year for their ATPL course, dependent upon operational requirements and the prevailing market realities.
Three individuals were identified, and the process of training commenced. Unfortunately, and through no fault of Bristow, the selected individuals were unable to obtain the necessary travel and study visas.
Furthermore, the proposed school identified was unable to obtain the required accreditation from the US Government for them to be used as a fully licensed training organisation.
Bristow has documents to prove that the claim of non-reimbursement of funds for self-sponsored pilots is false as two senior first officers SFOs (who have now been promoted to Captains) have been reimbursed fully for the cost of their ATPL courses.
Bristow rejects the accusation of any sharp practice regarding bonding of Pilots. The pegged ATPL reimbursement cost is in line with the costs presented to the company by individuals seeking reimbursement.
Bristow complies with all relevant laws and procedures and the exit of any employees will be in accordance with such laws and procedures.
The implementation of the engineering matrix is in line with the 2019 Agreement. NAAPE is now demanding that Bristow ‘shorten’ the current engineering matrix from fifteen (15) years to ten (10) years, which is contrary to the 2019 Agreement.
Given the far-reaching implications this has for experience and safety levels within our operations, we have offered to bring in independent subject matter experts to provide unbiased and professional advice regarding NAAPE’s demands.
NAAPE is yet to accept this proposal. Safety underpins everything Bristow does and under no circumstances shall Bristow compromise its standards or the safety of its operations.
Bristow has not and will not be in the practice of “jettisoning” legally binding agreements. Each base of operation has its peculiarities. For the particular base in question, Bristow was unable to run a two-pattern shift system due to factors outside of Bristow’s control.
An agreement was reached with NAAPE where their members will run extended shifts and in turn, get compensated for the extra hours worked.
Following extensive reviews with all stakeholders, Bristow has communicated (to NAAPE) its readiness to implement the two-shift system subject to lifting of travel restrictions in the affected base. Bristow has commenced the review and publication of a two-shift roster.
The accusations of discriminatory policies and victimisation of Nigerian nationals are completely without merit. Since inception in 1969 and to date, the company has trained and employed more National pilots and engineers in the industry, and at very significant costs.
In addition, the salaries and benefits payable to the National pilots and engineers continue to be the highest in the market. The majority of the company’s pilots and engineers are Nigerian nationals, yet NAAPE seeks to paint a false narrative of a company with mostly foreign pilots and engineers. This is certainly not the case in Bristow!
In conclusion, the allegations raised by NAAPE are rejected in their entirety. The company notes that most of the issues being advanced by NAAPE are contrary to the provisions of the 2019 Agreement and the company will request that NAAPE complies with the terms of that agreement.
Notwithstanding NAAPE’s position, Bristow remains willing to engage and dialogue on the issues. It requests that NAAPE does the same.
Bristow is proud to provide a safe environment that promotes equity and places ability above mediocrity ensuring that Bristow’s Nigerian Pilots and Engineers remain among the best paid and best trained in the industry globally.