Nigerian seafarers at crossroads over wages

As seafarers across the world continue to press for increased salaries to improve their standard of living, their Nigerian members are still at the mercy of shipowners. BAYO AKOMOLAFE reports

Next year, a new minimum wage would be recommended for all able seafarers working on board ships across the world in order to improve their welfare. Currently, the International Labour Organisation (ILO)’s minimum wages for seamen is $1,078 for steward, while a master receives $6,633 monthly.

However, majority of seamen in Nigeria may not benefit from the new salaries and wages like their counterparts in other countries because of the attitude of their employers to welfare. It was learnt that some shipping companies in the country have formed the habit of shortchanging their employees as they prefer to employ foreign captains and pay them as much as $6,000 monthly while a Nigerian captain receives only N500,000.

President, Merchant Navy Senior Staff Association of Communication Transport and Corporation, Engr. Mathew Alalade, who is not happy with the situation, noted that Nigerian seamen were not well catered for by their employers. According to him, most ship owners prefer cheap labour, while others pay paltry wages to their seafarers. He explained that salaries of seafarers are supposed to be reviewed every two years.

The president explained that a review had not been effected since 2010 as agreed by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and National Joint Industrial Council (NJIC). Also, he lamented that the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) 2006, which Nigeria is a signatory to, had not been implemented by shipowners.

The MLC stipulates good condition of service for seafarers. He said that if ship owners pay what is stipulated by government and the MLC convention, their employees would be faithful to them. Nevertheless, Nigerian Indigenous Shipowners Association (NISA) traced the problem to non-engagement of indigenous ship owners in Cabotage trade. President of the association, Capt. Niyi Labinjo, had earlier said that lack of contracts for shipowners had rendered thousands of seafarers jobless.

He stressed the need to build the shipping industry together with human capacity. Labinjo explained that there were 4,000 seafarers in the country out of which only 2,500 were registered with NIMASA. He noted: “Out of the 2,500 registered, over half of them are on the streets. They will remain like that unless indigenous ship owners are encouraged.’’

New issues

At a meeting of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Working Group of the Special Tripartite Committee (STC) held in Geneva, Switzerland, this month, some seafarers met to examine issues related to the protection of seafarers’ wages when they are held captive on or off the ship as a result of piracy or armed robbery against ships.

The meeting of the STC, established under the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), which covers minimum working and living standards for seafarers, brought together 150 representatives from governments, employers’ organisations and seafarers’ associations, officials from ILO, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and civil society organisations.

The working group was assigned additional task to consider recommendations on improvements to the process for preparing proposals for amendments to the Code of the MLC, 2006.

The final report of the working group includes three different proposals to the next STC related to the protection of seafarers’ wages during piracy or armed robbery against ships.

Welfare

It was resolved that seafarers were entitled to wages during piracy incidents. Shipowners’ obligations toward seafarers should continue until they are released or pending the date of death, if they die while in captivity. They also agreed that shipowners should continue to remit allotments to persons nominated by the seafarers.

In addition, seafarers cannot be fired while being held captive. The International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA)’s Policy and Regulatory Affairs Adviser, Eleni Antoniadou, who participated in the meeting on behalf of the maritime employers’ group, expressed IMCA’s appreciation for previous amendments to the MLC, which protect abandoned seafarers and provide financial security for compensation to them and their families in cases of seafarers’ death or long-term disability.

However, he argued that there was no need to consider the establishment of an additional financial security system to address cases of non-payment of wages during piracy or armed robbery, on the ground that financial security in cases of abandonment already exists and covers instances of non-payment of wages.

Conclusion

Lack of improved welfare for seafarers in the country will continue to be a major issue in the Nigerian maritime industry unless government enforces the provisions in the Maritime Labour Convention.

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