23 October 2015, Lagos – Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, MWUN, yesterday, shut the nation’s ports over alleged nine months unpaid wages to over 3,000 Tally Clerks and Onboard security men, members of the dockworkers, among others. They vowed not to resume work until the workers were paid and other pending issues addressed amicably.
This development has put the nation’s ailing economy in jeopardy as the nation stands to lose N5 billions daily. The action, if allowed to linger, will result in demurrage, delayed delivery of raw materials from the ports and ports congestion, among others.
According to the union their other major grievance is the alleged midstream discharge of vessels in Bonny Rivers, Lagos and other port formations without using registered dockworkers as required by law.
MWUN, had on October 12, issued a 7-day ultimatum to the management of Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, to stop all midstream discharge of vessels in Bonny Rivers, Lagos and other port formations without using registered dockworkers as required by law, failing which the nation’s ports would be shut.
Reacting to the strike, the General Manager, Corporate Affairs Department, NPA, Captain Ihenacho Ebubeogu, told Vanguard that some of the agency’s management staff were at the moment in Abuja to get funds from the Treasury Single Account, TSA, domiciled at the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, to settle the wages.
Ebubeogu explained that NPA’s management had also spoken with the leadership of the MWUN seeking its understanding in this matter, saying, “The Executive Director, Finance and Administration and the General Manager, Finance, are at the moment in Abuja to sort out the payment from the Treasury Single Account for the tally clerks .”
Explaining reasons for the union’s action, President-General of MWUN, Mr. Tony Emmanuel Nted, lamented that the issue of unpaid wages to dockworkers especially tally clerks and on board security gangway men, had dragged for too long despite several agreements.
Nted recalled that the last agreement reached with stakeholders including NPA, and Association of Stevedoring Companies, ASC, was on July 9, 2015, at a meeting called by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity, which resolved that the workers should be paid before July 30, saying that the deadline had since expired without any payment being made to the affected workers.
On the midstream discharge without using registered Dockworkers, Nted said: “This is illegal and against the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, Act which stipulates that stevedoring services in our ports, jetties terminal- on and offshore operations must be handled exclusively by registered dockworkers only. This has been going on for a long time and we have brought the attention of NPA management to it to no avail. We believe that some officials of NPA are conniving with some operators to breach the law for personal gains.
Since then, two vessels berthed in Bonny and Lodol and refused to involve registered stevedoring and dockworkers in the stevedoring services.
“The vessels are MV Hwak, which berthed at Bony Midstream, Rivers State, with both Deep Sea and Gac, as shipping agents. Also, at Ladol, Lagos, MV Panagia V, with Hullblyte as agent berthed since our ultimatum to NPA. In connivance with some NPA officials, the operators are using foreigners to load and off-load the vessels. The implications are that all dues accruing to government are not paid. Again, it means more dockworkers would be thrown out of jobs to compound the unemployment crisis in the country. We want to stress that until these issues are resolved, including the nine months unpaid wages, we will not call off the strike. This practice cannot continue in our ports in the midst of massive unemployment in the country.”
He claimed that since the July 9 agreement, several interventions had been made by Ministries of Labour, Transports and even the leadership of the union to NPA to pay the workers to no avail.
According to him, in July, “After an exhaustive deliberation on the demand for immediate payment of wage arrears to Tally Clerks and on board security gangway men and stoppage of use of cargo surveyors in the nation’s seaports by MWUN, it was resolved that the Tally Clerks and On-Board security gangway men should be paid arrears of their salaries and wages, that the Federal Ministry of Transport should on or before July 13, 2015 direct in writing, in furtherance of the letter Reference No. T.160/S160/T.214 dated June 4, 2015; the Nigeria Ports Authority to pay the arrears of salaries due the Tally Clerks and On-Board Security Gangway Men and that NPA, on receiving the letter should meet with the stevedores and the MWUN to work out modalities for the commencement of the payment before July 30, 2015. Until all these are addressed, the ports will remain shut.”-