The Nigerian Seafarer And The Maritime Labour Convention 2006

 Recently, a group which called itself; Integrated Seafarers of Nigeria accused shipping companies of violating the Cabotage Act, especially as it concerns recruitment of seafarers.

To affirm its seriousness, the body went ahead to give names of alleged culprits, shipping firms which took advantage of the Nigerian Cabotage Act by employing foreigners for jobs as low as AB, Oiler and so on; for which there are qualified and competent Nigerians.

The angry seafarers also pointed at what they referred as the failure of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) 2006. In the case of the MLC 2006, they lament that the few seafarers who are lucky to secure employment on board ships are paid meagre wages, in contravention of the Convention which already benchmarked seafarers’ wages. 

Just like the Cabotage Act was enacted, the Nigerian government has also submitted the Instrument of Ratification of the MLC, which is a step towards domesticating the Convention. If the duo of Cabotage Act and the MLC 2006 were implemented and domesticated respectively, the average seafarer in Nigeria would have been better off today.

Leader of the group; Integrated Seafarers of Nigeria; Capt Segun Akanbi didn’t stop at the generalized condemnation of both the Cabotage Act and the MLC 2006, he specifically fingered the MLC Department of NIMASA. "The Maritime Labour Convention department of NIMASA is not doing anything, we have so many case studies’’ (of shipping firms violating the convention and the Act)

Again, it said: "Since the cancelation of waiver for certain positions, we are still having companies bringing various foreigners of annoying positions into the country when we have thousands of Nigerian still jobless’’.

Captain Akanbi noted that the implication is that Nigeria seafarers will continue to be jobless until Nigeria decides to have a proper Cabotage implementation.

‘’You cannot try that in Ghana or other African countries, after all these interventions, companies are still violating, and Cabotage enforcement officers keep boarding ships all the time and yet companies are getting away with foreign AB, Bosun, 2nd Officer etc", he noted.So much has been said about the failure of Cabotage Act and the non-Domestication of the MLC 2006. Sadly, these two all-important legislations reside with the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).

Nigeria sent a delegation of almost 100 led by the Minister of Labour to the Headquarters of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Geneva, Switzerland to submit the MLC 2006 Instrument Ratification on June 18, 2014.But that is where it ended. Since the Ratification, Nigeria (characteristically) abandoned the most essential part of the convention; it’s Domestication! The National Assembly that was duly represented at the brief ceremony in Geneva also lost interest.

In specific, the MLC Convention covers conditions of employment, hours of work and rest, accommodation, recreational facilities, food and catering, health protection, medical care, welfare and social security protection.

In addition, parties to the treaty must ensure that ships flying their flag meet the ‘decent work’ requirements set out in the Convention, and certify that those ships comply with the requirements relating to labour conditions.

Popularly called “the seafarers bill of rights”, the MLC 2006, is expected to significantly impact on the fortunes of Nigerian seafarers. But can it? While we acknowledge that the MLC 2006 is not about providing jobs for seafarers, we nevertheless feel that, it should in truth make live more meaningful for the few that are currently engaged. 

In Nigeria; the implementing agency is the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).

At the submission of the Instrument of Ratification, the then-Minister of Labour; Emeka Wogu had told those already engaged as seafarers, that the ratification of the instrument would translate to “improved networking and seafarer -friendly ports activities  with concomitant increase in trading and shipping among others”.

Sadly, all the promises have remained what they are - mere promises, nothing has been done since June 2014 to move towards domesticating the MLC 2006 in Nigeria.

What is required to domesticate the MLC 2006 is goodwill on the part of the National Assembly and the Executive, both of which were adequately represented at the symbolic event.

 Members of relevant committees at the two chambers of the National Assembly were in attendance, so also were was the Executive led by the Minister of Labour. Of course, the implementing agency- NIMASA was adequately represented by a large retinue of retired and serving officers, as well as all relevant stakeholders, including the unions and associations.

In a country where thousands of seafarers are either unemployed or under employed, where the ship registry is depleting by the day, one hardly expected that all the efforts that were channeled into ratifying the MLC 2006 would be wasted.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) set the minimum wage for an Able Seaman at $1,040 monthly, while that of a Ship Master is $3,503 monthly. This is the benchmark with which country's that ratified the MLC 2006, are expected to pay their seafarers. As at today, no Nigerian seafarer earns anything near the benchmark.

We say that, irrespective of their current rating within the nation’s maritime sector, Nigerian seafarers are important stakeholders. One can hardly forget how hot and respectable it was to be a seafarer up till the mid- 1990s; that was before the liquidation of the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL).The average age of the youngest master mariner and marine engineer in the country today is about 57 years, while there are thousands of lower cadre seafarers, few of whom are gainfully employed.

A lot of people have blamed the current travail of the Nigerian seafarer on government and by extension, NIMASA, which is the implementing agency for maritime labour.  Without mincing words, NIMASA has not done well enough to boost the marketability of emerging seafarers. This it would have done by ensuring that the   Maritime Academy of Nigeria in Oron, Akwa Ibom state is well funded, but rather than do this, it funded the creation of maritime institutes in universities and also sending young Nigerians to foreign maritime academies for training in nautical sciences and marine engineering. 

The most shocking part of its deliberate policy is the controversial establishment of a Maritime University in Delta state.

There are about 1.2 million seafarers in the world, and good enough, Nigerian seafarers make up a sizeable number of the lot. In a country where thousands of seafarers are either unemployed or under employed, where the ship registry is depleting by the day, one can hardly expect anything positive, beyond the euphoria of joining the number. We recall sadly that the nation joined others to endorse the Seafarers Identity Document (SID) some years ago, without understanding the requirements from each signatory-nation.

If the Cabotage Act works as it should , and the MLC 2006 is domesticated and implemented, the average Nigerian seafarer will not only be qualified , but he will also be fully engaged.