In this December 2022 interview with Oluyinka Onigbinde, the President General, Maritime Workers Union of Nigerian (MWUN); Comrade Adewale Adeyanju looks at the year and its effect on the industry and the union.
As a union in the maritime industry, how did the MWUN fare in 2022?
Looking at our achievements, on the issue of IOCs, we are all aware of the side of the Union. We have been on this matter for almost four to five years now. There were good responses coming from the IOCs, especially based on the fact that the law of the country must be obeyed. Some of them have started to do that before we heard from the Nigerian Ports Authority who happens to be the Master Stevedore that posted companies to all those areas. I can say we have recorded 40 percent. That is what I can say for now. We had discussions in Abuja with the IOCs and they even told me that we should allow stevedoring contractors to register with them as their Vendors and I asked them what do they mean by Vendors? They are stevedoring contractors engaged by the Nigerian Ports Authority who happens to be the Master stevedore. I believe we have gotten a lot of achievements from there, but not to what we expected because some of them are still adamant. They still do not have regard for the law of this great country. They believe they can use the people at the top to have their way. And who are the people at the top? These are some of our brothers and sisters who are their representatives at the Human Resource Department and others. They are the ones misleading most of these multinationals. But don’t worry, we know how to handle them.
On the issue of haulage, you know it is not easy to come into a business you have not done before. But in line with our constitution and what we have put in place by the directives of our NEC, I think our haulage department has come to stay. We have registered our company through the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and the Registrar of Trade Union has already approved it. If you look at what we did the last time, we don’t want to associate ourselves with some of these associations within the port because there’s no how the Union and the associations are going to work together. We see the associations as employers of labour while we are the Union, and when we collaborate with them the result is not going to be okay for our members and we are not going to get the best. That was why we pulled out of COMTUA. You know the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria was one of the founding fathers of COMTUA, but we pulled out as a result of the attitude of some of the employers in the name of associations. We cannot work together. Let them remain where they are. Our haulage is in line with our constitution. There’s no how we are going to subject this Union to road side unionism where we stand at the gate or bus stop and start ticketing. No, we don’t want to do that. We want to follow what our constitution says. We will confine ourselves within the port and not outside the port. The port is a regulated area where you don’t just come from nowhere and say you want to be doing business. These are the areas we are guarding against to avoid some miscreants using the name of MWUN to be collecting illegal money. We don’t want to join ourselves with other associations such as RTEAN and some others. We have some of them that the law is clearly spelt. They are for road, while we are for inside the port. So there is no how we are going to have issues with them. We want to see how we can get back our recognition as a Union and not under an association. If anything happens today, they will be mentioning the name of MWUN. We have a Court judgment against all these associations. The Judgment is very clear in line the law of this great country. It will look stupid to still collaborate with an association we won against with a court judgment. Let us stand by the Judgment. If they decide to work with us in line with the judgement, our door is open. The Haulage department has come to stay, we have a haulage department at Port Harcourt, Warri and we operate within the port.
On the issue of workers’ welfare, the shipping workers are having issues with their employers where we have poor remuneration. Somebody can be on one scale for 10 to15 years until the man retires. Anyone retiring from shipping is like a death sentence and it is a statement of fact. I have some friends who come to me after they have put in 30 to 35 years into shipping and when they retire they are given peanuts.
We should have minimum standards within the industry where there would be a standard for an average worker in shipping. Everyone should know where they belong to. It should be standardized as we have it in other branches. We have it in Seafaring and also among Dockworkers. We have Conditions of Service, Collective Bargaining Agreement ( CBA). We equally have a National Joint Industrial Council (NJIC) midwived by the statutory agencies that is NPA, NIMASA and relevant terminal operators. It is reviewed every two years. If we had it earlier, the Dockworkers will not be where they are, but thank God we have it now and it is being recognised by terminal operators and government. We have been having the CBA for almost 10 to 15 years now. In shipping, they have NJIC before but this Shipping Association of Nigeria who happens to be the multinationals such as the MSC, Maersk Line, COSCO and others were running away from it, because they believe they are we making a hell of money from that. That is why they brought in outsourcing. They were using outsourcing to cover the mind of all the workers working under them. The job you know you can employ 10 or 15 people to do and given the permanent employment and good remuneration, they outsource that job to somebody else. Then we said No, we should have NJIC for shipping workers. That is why the NEC has directed that a 21-day ultimatum should be given to Shipping Association of Nigeria (SAN) for not complying with her ultimatum for two or three years. They have been running away from it. We have sent letter to them and added our charter of demands, but up till now we have not heard anything. So next year (2023), they should prepare for the other side of MWUN because they are taking our patience for granted. I have no fight with anyone but I must protect the welfare of the workers under me. 2023 is going to be a tough year for the employers of Labour who have no regard for their workers.
You achieved a breakthrough for dockworkers last year by securing the Biometric ID cards. To what extent has this cards gone round and what are the benefits?
There are lots of benefits with the biometric cards. It enables dockworkers to assess their Pension scheme when they are retiring. Over the years, if you want to access your payoff, they find it difficult because anybody can go out there and print an ID card to scam people. But with this ID card, it confirms you to be a registered and bonafide dockworker; registered under one particular stevedoring contractor, managing under one particular terminal operator, confirmed by NIMASA who happens to the regulating agency. So the advantages are very enormous. You can equally use the ID card to work in other ports. It is not something you just get and put inside your pocket. If you don’t work in Lagos, you can work in other ports nationwide for employment. I can tell you that the present biometric ID card issued to Dockworkers today is the best of its kind where your data based and every information is embedded in the ID card, unlike before when it was just blank. You can access your ID card through a machine. We also had fake ID cards, but now I think NIMASA have done a good job by giving us and original biometric ID cards.
How well do erring organisations or companies meet your ultimatums and demands or expectations?
The IOCs have met 40% of our demons, but in shipping they have not met our demands. When we issue out ultimatum, they will send letters begging and stating that because of economic situation or COVID we should bear with them; coming up with unnecessary excuses. COVID have travelled back to where it came from, so there is no how somebody will tell me excuses that are not tenable. I think the NEC have already taken care of that. Enough of all these begging and excuses that cannot hold water coming from the multinationals or the Shipping Association of Nigeria. The ultimatum has been issued by the NEC, so just leave us on that. I know they will call us but because of the peculiarity involved on the part of the employers and that of the Union, we will weigh options from all the four branches. When you have four wives, you don’t expect all of them to behave in the same direction. You will see hiccups here and there. The one we are having challenges with now is shipping branch.
Tell us where you are on the issue of acquisition by MSC and TICT on the issue of the takeover by Bolloré, saying they have agreed to absorb 21,000 workers.
Sometimes, I don’t believe all these stories on radio. I believe in realities. The issue of Bolloré and MSC is a serious matter that involves other countries, not only Nigeria. MWUN is fully involved and we have involved the international affiliates. So whatever acquisition or selling and buying, what are the templates? They have sent in some documents for the final acquisition confirming that they are going to employ up to 21,000 workers and all. So, they should tell us the modalities of retaining those taking the 21,000 workers. This because we have had a town hall meeting sensitizating our members but now that the MSC have confirmed that they have already perfected the acquisition, we will write to the two parties involved, TICT and Bolloré to come and tell us what has transpired between them and their workers. This because it is very easy for MSC to come out to say nobody will be affected but I can tell you many people will be affected. They might come out with a different template but our own is to protect the Interest of our members. We don’t want them to lose their jobs. Even when they lose their jobs, they should be adequately compensated. It is now a globalised issue that involves in the whole world confirming that Bolloré have been taken over by MSC. But what is the plight of workers under the new acquisition? We must know. Whatever is applicable in other African countries in the world should be the same template that should be applied in Nigeria here. So that is our stand. The acquisition has both its advantages and disadvantages. They should determine the fate of the workers first. Are you going to continue to pay the salary of the workers? So those are the issues we are putting on the minds of the management of Bolloré and TICT. Some of them have come and they have signed Communique with us. Yes we have heard that they’ve signed the deal but let’s discuss the plight of the workers under them. We don’t want to hear that they lose their jobs and even if they do, they should be paid off in line with the acquisition.
From your interactions with the workers, do they want to continue with the acquisition or they prefer to be paid off?
You should know that when a house is sold, the tenants will need to go because there will be a lot of renovation and restructuring. And if they are going and they have paid agent agreement, rent and caution fees, they will need to be paid. The way things are now, an average worker in Bolloré and TICT wants their money. There is no how I am not going to support the workers. It is the workers welfare first before anything. This is because they have put in so much energy and much efforts to make sure that the company is good. If the company is not good, someone cannot acquire it. The company is doing well, so the workers there should be well remunerated and paid what belongs to them. If they don’t want to go, there should be Transfer of Service. If the Transfer of Service is not going to work, then fine. But as a leader, the workers have already told us what they want. They want their money. This includes the Dockworkers too. They are involved.
Under your watch, the face of the dock workers have tremendously improved. How were you able to achieve a drug- free dock work force?
I was a Docker before I became the President General and I am still one. To me, it has to do with understanding the people you are dealing with. You don’t disconnect from Dock workers. They must be monitored and orientated. You must let them know that what it is now, is no longer the way it was in the past, that things have changed and they need to change with the new life. Today, they know what they are now. They can compare themselves with other workers. Before, if you don’t have enough workers, you can pick anybody on the road and ask them to come and work as a dockworker. An ex-convict who is just coming out from Prison can easily be employed, but it is not like that anymore. The CBA has changed all the narratives of the past. There are disciplined aspects of the CBA too and it must be complied with. Today, Dockworkers have changed from the wrong notions of being touts. Today, some of them are outside the country and are doing well. Recently we trained about 500 Dockworkers in the ports at Calabar, Port Harcourt, Warri and the likes. So we want the terminal operators to train them more to be well-equipped because they are the end users.shippingposition
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