President General, Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria,(MWUN), Comrade Adewale Adeyanju, in this interview with PAUL OGBUOKIRI says that the union’s collective bargaining policy has improved maritime workers’ welfare and brought stability in the Nigerian port industry
You have demonstrated so much commitment to workers’ welfare since you assumed office. How well could you say that the negotiations you have been doing impacted positively on the welfare of the maritime workers in Nigeria, particularly your members?
I think the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria today has transformed, unlike it was before; when the dockworkers, the seafarers, the shipping and the NPA workers didn’t have what we call Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).
But under our watch, we are improving upon what we met on ground when I took over. The issue of CBA should be paramount in the mind of any leader. We started with the dockworkers, where we have the National Joint Industrial Council (NJIC), and from that, they have what we call the CBA, between the terminal operators and the Nigerian Ports Authority and NIMASA with other stakeholders in the NJIC as witnesses.
So, welfare should be the best thing you need to think of to promote and to improve the condition of your members. I think that is what we have done in the past. If you look the way the port has been very calm today, it has to do with the ‘dos and don’ts’ coming from the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria and its Exco; you know I have four branches; the Dockworkers, the Nigerian Ports Authority, the Seafarers and the Shipping branches.
But we still have a little challenge with Shipping, when we find out that their take-home is nothing to write home about; somebody will put in 30-35 years’ service. If the person is leaving tomorrow, it is like a death-sentence to the person.
So, we are trying to see how we can come in to improve on that. But, the dockworker, the review of their take home is every two years, which I think has helped and improved the welfare of the dockworker across the board.
So, the issues we have with the shipping branch, very soon, we are going to get to the root of the whole matter. While shipping companies are still riding on the back of COVID-19, which is no longer with us in this country; they are using that as an excuse for them to do whatever they like, just to not improve the welfare of the workers under their employment. Then, the dockworkers, we are still doing something to make sure that their welfare is being improved better than what we have today.
In all these that you have been doing over the years to restore the dignity of the maritime worker, how would you describe the workplace of your members… If you want to rate it, how is it?
Well, I think that when they concessioned the Ports, the fear of the unknown caught all of us leaders about how well the private investors would improve the welfare of the workers and the work environment.
But, when you look round the environment within the ports today, some of the terminal operators have done well; go to APM Terminals, go to JosephDam that we condemned in the past that it was one of the worst terminals, but now it is very clean; the environment is conducive for terminal operations.
Go to Ports and Cargo, go to PTML, the environment is good and I think that is impacting on the wellbeing of the workers too. The environment that is good for the workers would make them perform excellently and the throughput or input we are talking about would be increased from the terminal operations. The environment, I can rate it maybe 70 or 80 per cent, though some terminals are yet to come up to the standard required by international organisations.
You must note that in any environment that is not conducive for you to work, there would be sickness and the attitude towards the job would not be encouraging. So, we want to use this medium to call on all the terminal operators, who are still lagging behind in terms of improving the environment of their terminals to urgently do so because investments in conducive work environments improve workers productivity.
Now, we see that all over the world, there is improvement in the maritime sector. What is your idea of the future of the workplace for Nigeria’s dockworkers and the maritime workers in general?
I think to me, the regulatory agency that happens to be in charge of the dockworkers and the seafarers in Nigeria is the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). It has a long way to go in terms of improving the standard of the workers. If you have given a job to the private sector, you still have to do a more supervisory role, as the owner of the agency.
So, the training of the dockworker has been lagging behind. I just came back from Mozambique and I visited their port. Their port is concessioned as well but they have a standard; clean environment and all that you can think of, where they train their dockworkers within the port.
They train their seafarers within the port and they also have very good simulators. If you go round our ports today, none of the terminal operators have simulators for training of their workers. How many of the terminal operators or the Stevedores have engaged their workers for training, both locally and abroad?
They are not doing any of that because they think that it is the entire responsibility of NIMASA. But, NIMASA is only a government regulatory agency. If we are the end-users; you are the ones using the workers for your operations and making all the money, you should give them required training that would make them compete with their colleagues in other countries.
So, for us at the MWUN, which I am still its leader now, I think we want to go to all those African countries, borrow their ideas, and sell it to the terminal operators.
We will go as far as challenging the government that a terminal that doesn’t have training capacity should not be given the concession. That the license of a terminal operator that does not empower their workers, should not be reviewed, but it should be taken away and given to those that have the capacity to train and retrain their dockworkers. For us, a terminal operator that doesn’t have the love of the workers in his heart does not deserve to be given a terminal job in our ports.
However, NIMASA which regulates them has a crucial role to play in this because they are the one registering them as stevedoring contractors. Before you register them, you need to sit down with the union and ask for a referral; are these terminals good for the workers? They are not doing that because we are not politicians; they gave the jobs to some of them who are politicians.
Our own responsibility is to defend the welfare of our members. But when it is becoming obvious that our members are not well taken care of, that is when you see us making noise; example is what happened in APMT recently.
You saw the attitude of Management of APMT that does not have regard for the employees in their terminals. The workers remained stagnated; what should be given to them is not given to them on time, and the company was using the workers like slaves in their own country. That was what made the union shut down the terminal and I think we have done well on that and we are still going to improve on what we have got.
In all of these, do you factor in the health and safety of dockworkers considering the hazards and dangers in the areas in which they do their work?
Yes. Taking it back to environment, safety and health, some of the terminal operators that I can identify, if you go into their terminals, there is nothing like toilets. It is unfortunate that in some of the terminals, the dockworkers equally spend their money to buy their coverall, their safety boots, their helmet and other things.
This time around, we want to go round the ports for on-the-spot assessment, to those erring terminal operators who believe the health of the workers is not in their dictionary. So, we want to use your medium, this medium to tell them that very soon, we would be going from one port to the other, up to Port Harcourt, Calabar to inspect how safe their environment is as a workplace. There are some terminals without toilets. I remember what happened in TICT, to the extent that we had to shut TICT. We shut it down for at least a day, before they now had a befitting toilet now. I learnt they are going to commission it by next month. So, other terminals should emulate TICT.
Some terminals do not have cloakrooms, where the workers can change their clothing after work hours, where dockworkers can clean up as professionals, because they still believe that the dockworkers are casual workers. They are no longer casual workers but now professionals. The work has been standardized and professionalized; you cannot just pick somebody on the road and say yes, come and work. It is no longer in the history of the dockworkers because all of them have employment with their terminals and Stevedoring companies. But their welfare is not in the heart of some of these terminal operators. So, as a Union, we are going to be out on that and we are going to seek the support of NIMASA to support us on this agenda, because they register them, they give them licence.
And the people, you register them, they are your members. But, they are your workers and they are being used as slaves in their father’s house. So, health is wealth. That is my last submission on this matter.