President-general of Maritime Workers’ Union of Nigeria (MWUN) Adewale Adeyanju, has described the working conditions of workers in the shipping sector as very deplorable and assures that the union will move seriously against it as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic issues are properly managed. In this interview, he reiterates his union’s commitment to protect workers from any form of employers’ abuse.
To what extent do you think the jobs of maritime workers are secure, seeing the job losses caused by the pandemic on the world’s economy?
It is just unfortunate that the pandemic is coming at this time. In the maritime sector, we are about having some issues with some employers because they are planning to ride on the back of COVID-19 to downsize their staff unfairly. Some are cutting workers’ allowances and some are even saying they cannot continue with retaining the jobs anymore.
Recently, a letter just came in from one of the terminal operators saying that they would like us to meet with them. They claim they can no longer take their payment, so it’s a global sickness that is ravaging all stakeholders, not only in maritime.
Going forward into this negotiation, what do you think will be the prospect of workers retaining their jobs?
It is only a foolish union that will give in easily like that because our door is always open for dialogue. We will negotiate and get something reasonable for our members. Our primary duty is to protect the interest of workers and promote their welfare at all times. We will never disappoint or compromise on that.
We are not going to allow any management to take us for a ride as a result of pandemic that is ravaging the world, and no union will allow them to just come in and say okay we are downsizing our members and go on just easily like that. There must be an understanding between the union and management. Workers must be treated decently and with utmost respect.
What is the position on workers’ stagnation, poor remuneration and other issues?
Yes, we are still pursuing it. We’ve written to them and they replied us that because of this pandemic they are definitely going to meet with us now. We have stepped down our actions temporarily o that maybe before August we are going to meet with them again to look into the issues.
They have written us, acknowledging that there is need for both sides to meet. As a union, we are not folding our arms. We are still pressurising them on the need for them to call us for proper meeting to see how the welfare of all shipping workers is going to be reviewed for the better.
People believe that shipping companies are the best employers of labour, but what I met here was nothing to write home about. They are the worst with no regards for workers. They believe in outsourcing jobs that a responsible worker can do. We are trying to address these issues and make sure that what belongs to the shipping staff will be given to them as soon as the pandemic is put aside.
Nigeria is among countries that have ratified the Maritime Labour Convention. To what extent has that ratification helped the average maritime worker?
It boils down to effectiveness, performance and other factors. If you have a management that is very caring, much can be achieved. If the head is not doing well how do you benefit it? So it depends on the attitude of the management. NIMASA have just gotten a new management. They change them all the time because the government can appoint anyone and the one they have appointed now is an insider who is going to do better so there is no need for us to start complaining because he understands the industry.
You are chairman of transport workers in the International Transport Federation (ITF) section in Africa. Are workers’ jobs secure in Africa, where most ships are foreign-owned, and what have you done in recent times?
I think being chairman of ITF African region is an opportunity for all the seafarers, dockworkers and others to have their own right of place in the continent. We are partnering with ITF and I also ask the same question. Are most of all these indigenous owners ready to employ our members? That is the question we are asking them. Some of them believe in using the Francophone people to come and do the job that Nigerian seafarers can do.
Just recently you heard of one vessel that had issues in anchorage and what the union had to do is to make sure that all the crew was safe. We were able to manage the problem. We gave them food items and so many other things that we are doing, because we are representing the seafarers in Africa. We cannot allow any of the foreigners to just suffer like that. I think that is the advantage of having us onboard the ITF.
International oil companies are also alleged to be giving jobs that dockworkers could do to unregistered persons who are not part of the union. What are you doing about it?
I think it’s part of the memo we have sent to DG of NIMASA that before you can come in as a dockworker, you must have an employer and when you have an employer you must to be registered by NIMASA. The law is very clear on that. So influx of people that have not registered as dockworkers is against the NIMASA Act. The union has written to them.
We are telling them that the IOCs should comply. You remember I gave an ultimatum last time and we even went on strike before they even allowed contractors to be duly engaged now. They’ve started engaging them because of the action we took, but it is not 100 percent as we expected it.
As I am talking to you now the dockworkers are already registered with the IOC, the oil company, but they are still hiding under the guise that they are international oil community and they don’t want to make use of the Nigerian dockworker to do jobs.
I must commend the Nigerian Port Authority (NPA) under the leadership of Hadiza Bala Usman. She was blunt in telling them that the law is very clear, you must engage the services of registered dockworkers and through their contractors. She insisted on due process and compliance with the law.
As I am talking to you now efforts are ongoing by way of reregistering contractors with the IOCs. They have started complying but it is not 100 percent as we expected, I can say there is progress on that. As time goes on I think we will still continue to push further so that they will continue to engage the service of the dockworkers to work in their base.
Under your watch, what has the average maritime worker benefitted and what are the prospects that you are looking forward to doing for the union in years to come?
In terms of physical structure, a lot of transformation is ongoing. You can see the other building we had here, we collapsed it because we are trying to have our guest house here so that we will continue to move in a good direction.
You know we have four arms of the union, Nigerian Port Authority, the Dockworkers, the Shipping and that of the Seafarers. All the executives have been very proactive and we are working together. I want to quickly let you know that the NPA through the ministry of transportation has properly paid and disengaged the tally clerks and onboard security men from the port.
Those are the matters that I met on the ground and we used diplomacy to make sure that we meet with the authority and the authority, through the corporate social responsibility were able to offset the payment. A lot of Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBA) has been put in place; the union also signed the National Joint Industrial Council (NJIC).
The dockworkers in the past didn’t have NJIC, they didn’t know what it was or what they are being used for. They were hired by just picking anybody on the road and say let’s go and work in the port but that is a thing of the past.
Now we have CBA, NJIC is renewable every two years, so it’s part of the achievement we have done including pension.
Dockworkers and seafarers are now pensionable. Their gratuities are paid promptly so nobody can complain that their money is being shortchanged by some people. The terminal benefit for dockworkers average dockworkers that is gainfully engaged if he is leaving the port today he’s entitled to his remunerations and they are going to pay him.
The executives, management, terminal operators and contractors are all working together because the dockworkers are the engine room of this nation. Though there are challenges, we thank God that I have able lieutenants who have been working hard with me in this administration to achieve transformation in many areas .