Six years after the National Industrial Court of Nigeria ordered the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) to pay the redundancy packages to the disengaged staff of the former Skypower Aviation Handling Company Limited (SAHCOL), the Bureau is yet to comply with the directive.
SAHCOL was acquired by the Sifax Group in 2009 and renamed Skyway Aviation Handling Company (SAHCO) Plc. Before its privatization, SAHCOL was an arm of the defunct national carrier, Nigeria Airways.
After the failure of the bureau to comply with the 2016 judgment of the National Industrial Court, the court on June 7, 2022, reached an agreement with the BPE on how the redundancy packages should be paid to the beneficiaries.
A document obtained by Nairametrics indicates that both parties – former staff of SAHCOL and BPE agreed that starting from March 10, 2022, all the verified beneficiaries should be paid within six months, which elapsed on September 10, 2022.
The ground handling staff numbering 982 was eventually disengaged on May 28, 2010, less than a year after the Sifax Group acquired the company from the Federal Government.
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According to the agreement reached between the new owners and the Federal Government, the affected staff were entitled to redundancy packages from the BPE.
The court had earlier approved the sum of N1.8 billion in redundancy packages to the staff in 2016.
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The court declared that the disengagement of the former staff amounted to permanent loss of employment and therefore was entitled to the sum as a form of redundancy.
But, in a bid to ensure the payment of the sums to the beneficiaries, the unions of the former staff; the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) and the Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN), in a letter dated July 8, 2022, and signed by Comrade Ocheme Aba and Frances Akinjole, respectively, appealed to the BPE to comply with the court judgment by paying the redundancy packages to the former workers.
They also observed that the delay in complying with the court judgment was negatively affecting the staff who had been out of jobs for almost 20 years.
But, the BPE in another document dated July 21, 2022, and signed by its Director-General, Alex Okoh, said that it was yet to secure the funds for the payment of the former staff.
The bureau, however, said it was “working assiduously” to secure the release of the funds and disbursement as contained in its agreement with the former staff.
The document added: “Please, note that the verification exercise can only take place after the funds have been secured. Nevertheless, for the purpose of planning for a hitch-free exercise, we would like you to furnish us with the spread and location of the would-be beneficiaries.”
The former staff of the ground handling company had 2021 petitioned the National Assembly and the Ministry of Aviation over an alleged N1.8 billion severance benefit due to them from the handling company.
The ex-workers in a protest letter to the two institutions alleged that the amount of money was what was calculated by the BPE when the former SAHCOL was acquired by Sifax Groups in 2009.
The former workers in a joint letter by their unions NUATE and ATSSSAN, dated August 31, 2021, signed by Comrade Ocheme Aba, General Secretary (NUATE) and Comrade Frances Akinjole, Deputy General Secretary (ATSSSAN), addressed to the Managing Director of SAHCO, had accused their former employer of withholding their redundancy packages despite interventions from various quarters.
According to the unions, the BPE set up a committee to resolve the issue of redundancy benefits to the 982 former staff and turned in its report in February 2020, stressing that the committee members, which consisted of all the parties to the issue, agreed on a negotiated settlement sum for the redundancy.
According to the letter, the committee further agreed that the BPE and SAHCO would be responsible for the payment of the severance packages, but regretted that both organizations since February 2020, treated the issue with the utmost levity.