…Stakeholders blame oil companies
…NPA, Shippers Council mediation flop
By Victor Ahiuma-Young, Godwin Oritse & Eguono Odjegba
NIGERIA’s fragile economy will face further pressures from the maritime sector with the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, MWUN, directing its members to withdraw their services in the commencement of a nationwide industrial action from today over unpaid wages to dockworkers, among other issues.
The action is expected to substantially shut down ports operations leading to huge losses in terms of revenue to government and organizations especially in the upstream oil and gas operations.
Addressing officials and a cross section of dockworkers at the Dockworkers’ Branch of MWUN, Lagos, president general of the union, Adewale Adeyanju, threatened that the industrial action would not be suspended until all outstanding payments accumulated for over a year were fully liquidated along with the resolution of other workers’ welfare issues.
Recall that MWUN had on June 11, 2019, issued a 14-day ultimatum to the Federal Government to compel the International Oil Companies, IOCs, to pay all outstanding wages to Dockworkers, among other issues or face nationwide industrial unrest. The leaders of the Union had, last week, set up a strike coordinating committee and directed its officials in all port formations nationwide to begin a massive mobilization of members ahead of the planned strike.
Explaining why the Union had resorted to industrial action, Adeyanju contended that non-payment of government-appointed stevedores/dockworkers by the IOCs contravened Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, Act 2007. He lamented that several efforts made to get the IOCs to comply including the stakeholders’ meeting organised by the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, failed.
He stated: “Some of the affected dockworkers have passed on prematurely due to economic hardship, while those that are alive have been forced to live like destitute. As a responsible union, we cannot continue to hold our arm and watch our members die prematurely because of the nonchalant attitude of the IOCs toward the welfare of our members. In view of the foregoing, we gave a 14-day ultimatum/notice to the Federal Government, through the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Transportation to prevail on the IOCs to do the needful by paying our members. Ahead of the expiration of the ultimatum, which was Friday, June 28, 2019, we issued a reminder letter dated June 27, 2019.
“The three days’ reminder elapsed today (yesterday) and we are, therefore, directing that from 6.00am tomorrow, (today), all ports operations nationwide should be shut and our members should begin an indefinite strike until all payments are made and other issues resolved. That is, if at the close of work today, (yesterday) no evidence of payment is seen, our members shall withdraw services in all the nation’s seaports until all issues in contention are resolved.”
Part of the complaints of the Union in the letter to the government says, “It is on record that on June 1, 2018, the NPA appointed stevedoring contractors to provide stevedoring services at various off-shore jetties and on-shore locations to the International Oil Services and other operators. It will be necessary to inform you that NPA had held several meetings with these operators to grant access to the government appointed stevedoring contractors, process their invoices and effect payment. Unfortunately, the operators have refused to comply with the NPA directive after one year that the stevedoring contractors were appointed.
“We commend the managing director of Nigerian Ports Authority for the NPA management has made to compel the IOCs to engage the services of appointed stevedoring and registered dockworkers in their stevedores and registered dockworkers in their stevedoring operators. In fact, at stakeholders meeting held on February 28, 2018, organised by the NPA at Victoria Island, Lagos, to sensitise stakeholders, i.e., IOCs, jetty owners and terminal owners, that the NPA appointed stevedores and registered dockworkers are empowered by law to solely handle discharged and loading operations at the ports, jetties and oil platforms.
“The position of the operators on NPA directive is worrisome and very surprising because the same operators had processed and paid the former stevedoring contractors since 2010 through a foremost terminal operator. So, why are they refusing to cooperate with the newly appointed stevedoring contractors since the modus operandi remains the same?
“The Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, MWUN, has been monitoring the chain of events on this matter since last one year, and noted that the implication of the operators defiant attitude amongst others is untimely death of some dockworkers while awaiting the payment of their wages, because they could not meet their family obligations like payment of house rent, children school fees and hospital bills, to mention but few. We can no longer continue to watch our members die prematurely because of the defiant attitude of the IOCs.
“Consequently, we are constrained to give the Ministry of Transportation that superintends the appointment of stevedores two weeks (14 days) to prevail on the management of the IOCs to pay all outstanding bills to our members, failing which we will be compelled to withdraw our services and shut down operations in all the Nations Sea Ports.”
Although the NPA, yesterday claimed it was holding a meeting with the union leadership in the bid to avert the strike, President General of MWUN, Adeyanju denied knowledge of such meeting. The General Manager, Corporate Communications of NPA, Mr Adams Jatto, said the Authority had called the Union for dialogue earlier yesterday morning.
He stated: “There was a meeting, the meeting is not over, but even if the Union decide to go ahead, NPAs operations will not be affected because the issue is with the IOC, and I believe the strike will only affect the upstream. This ultimatum has been hanging and those directly involved have failed to respond. It is not the Authority’s problem in the actual sense, we are only trying to mediate.”
But Adeyanju denied any meeting, insisting that only evidence of payment of the outstanding wages would stop the strike, saying all four branches of the Union, comprising of Dockworkers, Seamen, Ship Chandelling and NPA would comply fully as they had been mobilised for an effective nationwide strike from today.
In the reminder letter addressed to the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Transportation, the Union lamented that there was no evidence that the issues raised were being addressed.