"If there is a proper condition of service for the seafarers, they will not do anything illegal at sea"
In this interview, Seafarers’ Branch President of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN); Comrade Francis Bunu spoke with Shipping Position Daily Assistant Editor, Dapo Olawuni, highlighted challenges of seafarers in the maritime industry, especially as regards remuneration and sea time experience for young cadets.
NSDP: After the training programme, the cadets need a seatime
How true is it that seafarers buy certificates?
For a seafarer to buy certificates, first of all, you need to ask, where are they selling the papers? If there are papers on the streets of Lagos or in Nigeria, who is selling it? I don't think any seafarer will buy paper to go onboard, there might be one or two bad eggs, but this does not mean that seafarers are buying papers to go onboard, NIMASA as an agency of the federal government is the one training seafarers from year to year, we just finished a training across the country, the union is also training seafarers, companies are also training, however, one or two bad eggs may be among them, this does not mean that seafarers are buying papers before they can go onboard, Nigeria has better and qualified seafarers who can stand the test of time.
How would you also react to talks that many of the seafarers are not employable?
When you say that most of them are not employable, NIMASA just finished a training programme for seafarers on cadet level, we are now looking at where would these cadets be placed? This is why the union is calling on the Federal Government to invest in the maritime sector, before now we have the National Line, but today, where are the vessels? You cannot tell a company that has invested it’s hard earned money to purchase a vessel to now convert the vessel into a training ground for cadets, this is why government itself must come in and invest in the maritime sector. In as much as they are getting so much revenue from the sector, they should be ready to invest more. Now it is the union that is now forcing shipping companies to employ the cadets that were trained by NIMASA for seatime, this is not supposed to be so, it is supposed to be the duty of the government to provide a company on its own, so that they can dedicate one or two vessels for training, after the training abroad, the cadets would come over here for the practical aspect of the job.
As a union, what measures have you put in place to checkmate quacks?
As we speak, the President General of the union has directed all districts and unit leaders of the union across the country to do a proper registration of all our seafarers, NIMASA have also discussed with us on the need to have a credible seafarer’s document that can be presented at every point in time. We know that it is not a day's job, but we have started something that would stand the test of time, in the nearest future, we would be able to assure Nigerians a complete electronic list of seafarers. Note also that times are changing everyday, new vessels are being built, before now they were using single haul vessels, but now they are using double haul, this is why the seafarers also need to upgrade their certificates, this does not mean that they are not qualified seafarers .NIMASA certification has been described as the most expensive in the world
NIMASA cannot do anything outside the international benchmark, seafaring is an international business, even if you don't get the certificate here and you travel to obtain it elsewhere, it would still be the same exams, there is nothing so difficult about it, what about people that went to the university, they also face a lot of challenges there because it is their profession, and if you want to embark on that profession you must be ready to face the challenges.
The task force that was set up by the union recently, to what extent has they been effective?
The union has set up a task force telling all foreign shipping companies that the Cabotage law must be adhered to, and for all the foreign seafarers loitering around, NIMASA has said No to it, we as a union will also push to ensure that the foreign seafarers who are doing the job of Nigerians onboard are exposed, the union is on top of it.
Seafarers engaging in illegal activity at sea to shut change their employers
It is because there was no proper Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) for the seafarers, but the union has now put the proper machineries in place and the CBA has already been signed. The shipowners need to understand that if they pay the seafarers very well, they would not have to go and do anything illegal activities at sea, this is why we have said that every shipping company should bring out a condition of service with the trade union, if there is a proper condition of service for the seafarers, they will not do anything illegal at sea, the ship owners should talk to themselves and bring forward their condition of service to the union for any seafarer they employ. When you go and employ seafarers on the road side without following due process, the seafarer will also know that you took him from the road side and so he can always do something funny, but if you follow the right channel and the laid-down procedure that governs the industry. Ask the shipowners and shipping companies today, does any seafarer under the maritime workers union misbehave? No, this is because they know that there are rules and regulations; the ship owners and shipping companies also enjoy giving jobs to seafarers who are under the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, hence the ship owners should stop road side employment, they should also stop encouraging one sided condition of service, the CBA is supposed to be a tripartite agreement between the representative of the trade union, the shipping companies or ship owners and the government.
There are a number of Nigerian seafarers in prisons across the country and it seems nobody is ready to fight their course
The union has already put machineries in place to visit the Prison Comptroller for us to determine the number of seafarers in prison and what their offenses were, by the time we get to this point, we would be able to know who the seafarers are and where they were employed from, it all still about what I have said, if there was a proper trade document between the company and the trade union and the government, we would not have all these troubles, in other countries, you cannot go to the US and employ any seafarer from the road side , it is totally against the law, this is why we have manning agents and the union, but the shipping companies are not following the procedures. The manning agents are supposed to be engaged by the shipowners, but they do not engage them, they prefer to employ outside the manning agents, the proper thing should be done so that both parties can enjoy the game.
What is your assessment of the NSDP programme being run by NIMASA?
It is a very good programme that Nigeria needs, but the only thing is that after the training programme, the cadets need a seatime , so the federal government should go into acquisition of vessels for them to have their seatime . We have equally said that you don't just train somebody to become a cadet, for instance, in the police force, we have the sergeants and the corporals, so also, there are beginners in this industry, the vessel being divided into three departments, one is the engine room, the deck and catering. Shipping companies are now going ahead, they would request for oiler or an AB to do the job of an SOS or an OS, all these should be discouraged, NIMASA should discourage that for anyone coming for the renewal of their license, let them ask from them, what is your plan of training the new breed of seafarers that would take over from the ageing ones, they should train cadets and not just officers, by so doing, when the officers age and leave, you would have people to take over, the ship was not built for one position.
Why has it been difficult to implement the MLC 2006?
This is why I told you that we have just signed the Collective Bargaining Agreement with NIMASA, Ministry of Transportation and Ministry of Labour and all ship owners. My President General has said that he will go any length to implement the CBA.