Seafarers, who are not affiliated to maritime unions, have faulted the deduction of their wages by their employers in line with the Trade Union Act (TUA) and Maritime Labour Convention (MLC 2006), BAYO AKOMOLAFE reports
The Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) 2006, which permits deductions from seafarers’ wages to their union bodies, has stressed the need by each maritime administration to regulate private crew agencies that indulge in illegal deduction of wages.
In Nigeria, arbitrary deductions of seafarers’ earnings, such as check up dues, non-remittance of tax and pension by non-consented union bodies have become a practice among shipping companies.
Mostly affected are those who are not members of the two house unions in charge of seafarers, Nigeria Merchant Navy Officers and Water Transport Senior Association (NMNOWTSSA) and Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN).
Employers of the affected seafarers had said that Article 694 of the International Labour Union (ILO) empowered non-unionised workers not to pay those dues in line with the principles of freedom of association.
However, certain percentage of their employees’ salaries is being deducted contrary to the global shipping practice. It was learnt that 90 per cent of the human resources managers in the shipping companies have no understanding of the industry.
For instance, the President of Merchant Seafarers Association of Nigeria (MESAN), Capt Alfred Oniye, said that it was absolutely illegal for shipping companies to deduct check up dues from seafarers, who are not registered or members of the unions.
Oniye described it as a criminal act, which the shipping companies could be jailed for it.
He noted that the association was already aware of the illegal deductions and is currently looking into some of the cases to ensure that all the money collected is refunded back.
Oniye explained that the association was worried on the illegal practice, saying that the union had started collating some reports on the illegal deduction.
He said: “We cannot imagine that seafarers would be out there working and somebody will sit inside the office deducting from their salaries when they are not even your members.
“The law stipulates that you can only collect check up dues from somebody who is your registered member.
“Four per cent is being deducted from a captain that is earning N1.5 million. We would shut down that company: any company that refuses to sign contract of seafarers because of check off dues.”
However, ILO, under articles 695 and 701 explained that workers should have the possibility of opting for deductions from their wages under the check-off system to be paid to trade union organisations of their choice, even if they are not the most representative.
It further noted that the deduction of trade union dues by employers and their transfer to trade unions was a matter which should be dealt with through collective bargaining between employers and all trade unions without legislative obstruction.
Deputy Secretary General of the Merchant Navy Senior Staff and Water Transporters Association (MNSSWT), Comrade John Okpono, explained that it was indiscipline not to pay check up dues.
He noted that the MLC recognised the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) onboard every vessel, adding that union presence was compulsory on every vessel.
The CBA, he noted, was a decision-supporting technique, normally used to evaluate the economic desirability of public programmes, adding that could also be used to evaluate the economic efficiency of applying regulations on maritime safety and marine environment protection.
Okpono stressed that the Trade Union Act (TUA) and the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC 2006) both recognised the seafarers’ representative, which is the union, from the first stage to the last stage in signing of their contracts with shipping companies.
He said: “For your information, the National Joint Industrial Council (NJIC) agreement was signed by the union on behalf of the seafarers.
The day we signed the NJIC, nobody said that the unions were not representing the seafarers.
“We know the role we played on abandoned seafarers from India when some of the seafarers were detained for more than one year.
“We equally know the role we played and we hired a lawyer and we are treating the case. So, nobody can say that they do not belong to a union.”
The deputy secretary general added that the issue of deduction was statutory, noting that seafaring was a chosen career.
“Once you choose to be a seafarer you must comply,” he noted.
He stressed that MLC had created the room for them to belong seafarer associations.
Okpono said: “What they need to do now is to join hands with the union in order to better their welfare; it is not optional, when you are employed, it is direct deduction.”
Government must domesticate necessary conventions in order to ensure proper deduction of wages.