‘Every dockworker is entitled to gratuity, pension’
President-General of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN), Adewale Adeyanju, in this interview with GLORIA NWAFOR, talks about the need for government to bring back tally clerks and onboard security men, who are integral part of dockworkers to save Nigeria from losing revenue daily due to insecurity at the seaports. He also talks about measures put in place to reposition the union to compete internationally, among other issues.
You mentioned that government was losing huge revenues over the absence of onboard security men and tally clerks. Can you give more insight?
Of course, Nigeria is losing huge revenue in the maritime sector over the absence of onboard security men and tally clerks.
The onboardgangwaymen and tally clerks form an integral part of dockworkers. There is no way you will phase them out without passing through the law. The onboard security men, otherwise known as ‘onboardshipgangwaysecuritymen’ should be reinstituted to restore security onboard vessels in the ports. They were disbanded by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). Over the years, there is no way vessels will enter the Nigerian ports without being checked. As it is now, we don’t have onboardgangwaymen. That is why we have a lot of negative things happening in the ports. They want to turn the port into a dumping group for drugs-related offences.
However, the union is working in synergy with NPA and Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) to make sure they resuscitate the pool system and bring back onboardgangwaymen. We appeal to the government to look inward and see how they can bring back the onboard security men and tally clerks. If the government wants to achieve more, they should bring them back. The vessels coming into the Nigerian ports are so porous. Anything can go out and come in. With onboard security men, we will be able to restore security onboard vessels. The Federal Government does not know what is happening in the port. We do know more because we are on standby and receive information from our men on the field. They should be reinstituted so that illicit drugs, dangerous vessels and stowaways don’t come into Nigeria. There is a need for NPA to review their conditions of service. You are promoting senior cadres, while doing that they should employ Nigerians to fill up vacant positions and review salaries of all cadres across the board. In all our private jetties, a lot of things are going on there.
What was the impact of COVID-19 on the workforce and how were you able to surmount the challenges at the peak of the pandemic?
We were able to surmount some of the challenges as a result of the proactiveness of our members. Most vessels were coming from red flag countries, where COVID-19 was high. For the safety of our seafarers and dockworkers, what we did then was to re-orientate our workers. We partnered with the International Transport Federation (ITF), which was able to support the union by giving us palliatives for our dockworkers and seafarers to cushion the effect of the pandemic. We ensured that the welfare of our members was paramount to us. However, some of the employers on the shipping side, right at the peak of the COVID-19 refused to negotiate a proper Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with their workers. That was why we declared a state of emergency in shipping. We are planning to meet with the shipping sector to bare our minds that the welfare of the workers should be revisited.
2023 general elections are around the corner. What are your views on the role of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in the process?
Yes. We have Labour Party, which all workers belong to, but somewhere along the line, the capitalists hijacked the party from Labour. With the way things are now, we want to reform and re-organise the Labour Party to a standard where all members will fully participate in the 2023 general elections under the umbrella of the NLC. Right now, the activities of labour would be zoned across the states, where all the unions would be fully involved.
The union had threatened to embark on strike over non-compliance with extant stevedoring regulations by International Oil Companies (IOCs). What is the current state of things?
We issued an ultimatum on the IOCs not respecting the laws of this country and we later suspended it due to intervention by relevant stakeholders. We signed a communique and we gave them two weeks’ ultimatum and the two weeks have elapsed. We are about to go back to the drawing board to renew the ultimatum. The ultimatum demanded two weeks for the implementation of the laws but we want to know the reaction of the NPA and to let them know that the Ministry of Transportation regarding the two weeks which have elapsed and some of them are still not trying to obey the law, by not allowing the stevedoring contractors to come into their terminals to work. They are still quoting some laws that are not agreeable to us. We only suspended the strike, but very soon, we are going to renew it. I appeal to the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi and his petroleum counterpart, Timipre Sylva, to show more commitment to the maritime sector. I urge Amaechi and Sylva to work in tandem and investigate the resistance of the international oil companies (IOCs) non-compliance to the extant stevedoring regulations, otherwise known as Government Marine Notice 106 of 2014. I urge Amaechi to be visible in the ports. He needs to focus more on the ports to complement the efforts of the newly appointed Managing Director of NPA. The government is losing a lot of revenue daily due to non-compliance with regulations by IOCs. The minister should investigate the activities of the IOCs on why they are resisting the stevedoring workers coming into their terminals. The IOCs have no regard for the Minister of Transportation.
The impunity is becoming too much. The IOCs have bluntly refused to allow the appointed and deployed stevedoring companies to commence operations and have thus deprived its members (dockworkers) in the employ of the stevedoring companies to work and earn a living. Out of 30 IOCs operating in the country, only three have complied, thus making Nigeria lose huge revenue in the oil and gas sector.
As President General, what are other challenges in the sector and how have you been able to tackle them?
Challenges in the maritime sector are so enormous. On the dockworkers and seafarers’ side, we talk about the government resuscitating the pool. On the dockworkers’ side, who were before now identified as the volatile body of the MWUN, a lot of reforms have taken place. They are now reformed and things have taken shape because they have good conditions of service. Any dockworker that is leaving the industry today is entitled to gratuity, benefits and a pension. We will continue to review their conditions of service every two years in line with the conditions of service that were being midwifed by the NPA and NIMASA. This is to tell you that MWUN has come to stay in terms of transformation. We are now a re-born union and we will continue to maintain that portfolio.
What measures have your union put in place to check the activities of drug traffickers in ports?
We have issued notices and warnings that any of our members involved in illegal drug activities would be suspended and cannot be readmitted again. There is no way this union would support illegality or trafficking. It is not only our members that are involved in this. To further tackle this, we are planning to partner with NDLEA to extend the support needed from us to them. I have sent signals to the four arms of our union; the shipping branch, dockworkers, seafarers and NPA branch, because anybody caught would be denied outrightly. We will continue to checkmate the activities of our members involved in anything drug-related. We are not going to support our members when caught and arrested.
Can you highlight some of your achievements in the last five years?
The union has been informed and transformed. To me, humility is the key to anybody’s progress in life. The union made me what I am today and I will continue to be humble. The MWUN has arrived. Before now, we were nothing to write home about. But now we have transformed and can compete with any leadership in the world. We are doing a lot to ensure that the union is being transformed. There is a lot of peace that has come to the MWUN, which has transcended all workers in the port because the union believes in peace. Our union believes in dialogue and not violence as they know us in the past. The bottom line of this achievement was that having a CBA for dockworkers, between the dockworkers and the terminal operators has been very robust. However, in shipping, we declared a state of emergency for almost a year now. Retirement benefit in shipping is like a death sentence because their take-home is nothing to write home about. Somebody can be in one position for five to ten years. We have written to the Shipping Association of Nigeria (SAN) for us to have a good condition of service for our members in shipping, but as it is now, nothing good has come out of it. You will see someone put in 35 years of service and once he’s going home, it is like he has already dug his grave; going home penniless. The excuse given to us is COVID-19. We are trying to see how we can renew the ultimatum we gave the association for us to have a good CBA for workers in the shipping sector. For us, the achievements are enormous. As a PG, you need to connect well with members. Our good relationship with workers is because we have a good CBA with all except shipping. The welfare of workers in shipping is nothing to write home about. Very soon we will tell you the activities going on with shipping.
What is your message ahead of this year’s May Day celebration?
It is going to be a special day for all workers and our members. I want to use this medium to tell our maritime sector workers that a better day is coming with a better welfare package and better CBA for all our members. We restate our commitment to our members as their welfare is paramount to us.