Iwelunmo: Aviation workers have been unlucky

Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos

Manager at the Flight Department of the defunct Nigeria Airways, Henry Iwelunmo, who had put in 20 years of service in the airline before it was liquidated, told WOLE OYEBADE that aviation workers were victims of atrocities that investors and owners perpetrate in the industry.

How pleasing is the news of the N45b approved for payment of benefits to ex-workers of the defunct Nigeria Airways?
For us, it is a welcome development, but we hope that the government in the future, and when things get better, will fulfill the promise it made before, and bridge the gap between what they are giving now and what was previously promised. All in all, we do appreciate government’s gesture for now because so many people have lost their lives due to inability to access medicare given the lack of funds.

I lost a colleague within the Nigerian Airways family in the last few weeks. This is in addition to several others we have been told have passed on. So many of us are in various stages of distress right now. If it is not health problems, it is accommodation problems, obligations to children and so on. So, it has not been easy at all.

And you can imagine that the last time we got paid was in 2008. The truth is, we in the airline industry have seen the state of aviation in Nigeria over the years even up till today. You can imagine what happened to workers of the EAS, who went to NICON Airways. The people that managed the airline disappeared into thin air, leaving the staff to face very uncertain times. Besides, over 30 airlines have over these years all fallen by the way side leaving the workers in distress. So, you can imagine the suffering and uncertainties in the industry even up till date.

You also remember Air Nigeria that came with plenty of promise, even though its management was saturated with the same set of personalities. This still tells the story that people in the industry have been in very terrible situation from the days of the defunct Nigeria Airways. So, for me, I welcome and thank the Federal Government for the gesture.

Since 2004 when the airline was liquidated till 2008, does it mean you were getting paid?
Certainly not. The first payment had to do with gratuity, but there was supposed to be severance benefits. The union negotiated with the government regarding the number of years. For instance, it is either you are been paid your monthly pension or you are not. But, along the line, people preferred being paid their severance benefits. Initially, what was agreed on was 25 years. It later came down to 15 years and later to 10 years. But they have not been paid since 2008. Under this circumstance, you could see that surviving staff members have not been fairly treated, especially by the previous governments, particularly the last administration.

At a point, the last administration wanted us to vote for it in order for our entitlements and benefits to be paid. But it didn’t work out in their favour. The minister, Stella Oduah, totally turned her back on us, and by extension, the government of the then President Goodluck Jonathan.

Like I said, people that are alive today are anxiously looking up to the government as it works out these benefits so that people that are sick and handicapped can get funds to take care of themselves.



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