The port concession of 2006 was expected to block all unauthorised loopholes leading into the ports. In this interview with TOLA ADENUBI, the President-General of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN), Comrade Tony Nted explains that nothing has changed. Excerpts:
Can you give us a scorecard of your administration as President-General of the MWUN?
The current interaction the MWUN enjoys with the critical stakeholders in the Nigerian maritime sector, that is the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), the shipping companies and the terminal operators is a living testimony to what has been achieved under my leadership of the MWUN. This is unprecedented in the Nigerian maritime sector.
Today, if you go to the ports, you will find out that the dockworkers now believe in dialogue. Gone are the days when everybody wants to shut down the ports over issues that can be resolved amicably. Again, these dockworkers respect and believe in their leaders because we have been sincere with them over burning issues. We have been able to bring peace to the maritime industry.
Aside this, we also do what we call Dockers’ restoration; that is we teach them about being religious. We encourage them not to pilfer cargoes when containers come into the ports. We have made them to understand that those who come to the ports to pilfer and break containers will be expelled from the ports. This has brought total peace to the Nigerian maritime industry.
Aside kicking against pilfering and breaking of containers, how has your members benefited from your leadership?
We have done more many training programmes for our members, both locally and internationally, and we are still going to do more within the short period we have remaining. Our members who are the dockworkers, NPA staffs, shipping company’s workers and sea men have all benefited from these training programmes. We have taken more than 500 people abroad for training and also conducted training locally for more than 5,000 people here in Nigeria. Also, I have been able to achieve a minimum standard of payment for dockworkers. What used to happen in the past was that dockworkers would work without a clear cut direction of their benefits during and after working at the ports. There was no pension allowance for dockworkers back then, but under me, we have been able to achieve that for the dockworkers. Now dockworkers enjoy pension, gratuity, terminal benefits and redundancy benefit. These were achieved under me and many more are still to come.
In the midst of these achievements, were there challenges?
Yes, we had a lot of challenges and some of them are still there till date. If you travel world over, you will find out that dockworkers are organised in a pool. There is what is called Dockworkers pool. However, such is not the case in Nigeria and this makes it very difficult to control the workers.
During the era of Joint Maritime Labour Industrial Council (JOMALIC), the dockworkers pool was organised, but after some times, JOMALIC transferred this role to the stevedoring companies and the terminal operators. And that was how the whole process collapsed. That is why today, the port is very porous. If you go to the ports, you will see every Tom, Dick and Harry that wants to come inside the ports. It is so bad that people that are not dockworkers are paid to work inside the ports. How those people got into the ports in the first place is unexplainable. In the quest for a dockworkers pool, the terminal operators have a role to play because they run the ports.
Also, the NPA, NIMASA and the shipping companies also have a role to play. If each of them contributes just one per cent towards the welfare of dockworkers, it will be a welcome development.
As regards the agitated dockworkers that recently disengaged at ENL, some of them claimed they are being underpaid. Can you shed more light on this?
The problem with the agitated dockworkers is that they don’t understand the pattern of their employment. For dockworkers’ employment, we have three types of employment pattern namely: time related wages employees who are permanent workers; tonnage payment employees who are casual workers; and unit payment by container employees who are also casual workers.
For the permanent employment, it is time related. These sets of workers are salary earners. They get paid at the end of every month. They were given condition of service agreement before they were employed. They were duly interviewed by the company before they started working.
For tonnage employment, which is what is done majorly all over the world, the employees only work when a vessel tonnage berths at the port terminal. This set of workers will stevedore the tonnage when it comes. They work as fast as they can because the more work they do, the more money they get paid. Whatever they work on the tonnage is what they get, no additional benefit.
The unit payment by container employees work on containers. The amount of containers they are able to discharge is what they get paid for. The agitated dockworkers were employed on the tonnage payment employment and unit payment by container employment basis. They were employed to discharge rice, wheat, sugar etc. But they want to collect what the permanent dockworkers collect. It’s not possible. They should go to Salaries and Wages Commission for better understanding of their working employment.
How did all these problems start?
The genesis of this problem started when APM Terminal declared redundancy and asked some dockworkers to leave due to a lull in cargo throughputs at the ports. The affected dockworkers were on Time related wages which is the Permanent employment. So because they are permanent employees, APM Terminal paid them all their benefits as it was stated in their employment handbook. We negotiated with APM Terminal and made sure these dockworkers got additional incentives aside their full benefit because it was APM Terminal that asked them to leave, not that they demanded to leave.
So when the casual dockworkers who are still working heard of the amount APM Terminal paid their colleagues, they then demanded to leave, thinking they too will get such amount. That is where the confusion set in.
They demanded to leave because they taught they will get about N5million that their colleagues got at APM Terminal; but they forgot that their colleagues at APM Terminal are permanent employees. They also failed to realise that their colleagues at APM Terminal did not demand to quit their jobs; they were severed by APM Terminal due to lack of work to do. So the casual dockworkers demanded to quit their jobs and expected to get about N5 million. That’s impossible. We tried to explain to them but they refused to listen to us. That is why all they got was N350, 000.
Is there a new development on the Tally Clerks issue at the NPA?
The NPA has succeeded in terminating the contract of the Tally Clerks but the MWUN is saying they don’t have such right. The only people registered by law to tally cargoes when they arrive at the seaports are the Tally Clerks. Cargo surveyors cannot tally cargoes, what they do is to calibrate cargoes and reveal their tonnage, even though the figures they give are not always correct. But the Tally Clerks do the tallying of the cargoes one after the other. Through this, if there are arms and ammunition concealed inside a cargo, the Tally Clerks will detect it. If the Cargo is under-declared, the Tally Clerks will detect it. So since NPA announced it will be cancelling the Tally Clerks contract, they (Tally Clerks) have dragged NPA to court. The case is currently in court as I speak to you.
Back to MWUN forthcoming elections, is it true you already have an anointed heir to the post of President-General of the MWUN?
There was no time I said I already have an anointed heir to the post of the President-General of the MWUN. I cannot anoint anybody to succeed me, but I can support somebody during the elections. All the members of the Central Working Committee of the MWUN have a right to context for the leadership of the MWUN. All of them have a right to vote and be voted for come elections. I have a right to support only one person since the MWUN needs just one President-General to lead it. I don’t even know who I will be supporting now but as the year draws to a close and events begin to unfold, then I will know who to support.