Dockworkers under the aegis of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) yesterday downed tools as they began a three-day warning strike to press home their demands for negotiation of wages with their employers.
The workers’ strike affected activities at all the port terminals across the country.
A source in the union however informed SHIPS & PORTS DAILY that the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) had advised the workers to return to work as it intervenes in the ongoing negotiations between the union and members of the Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN). The negotiation started late last year.
It would be recalled that MWUN had warned in November last year that plans by the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) to reverse charges at the nation’s seaports could impair the ability of terminal operators to increase their workers’ salaries and meet other obligations.
In a letter with reference number MWUN/HMT/FMT/WDR/360 dated 10th November 2014 and sent to the Minister of Transport, Senator Idris Umar, a copy of which was sighted by SHIPS & PORTS DAILY, the union said that it was “alarmed that an institution with or without known legal authority to perform the duties of Port Regulator could evolve such biased directive targeting terminal operational costs alone with dire consequences on our members”.
The letter signed by the union’s Secretary-General, Comrade Aham Ubani said the NSC’s directive on the reduction of storage charges at the nation’s seaports would negatively affect the welfare of dockworkers and hamper port efficiency.
Ubani also accused the NSC of not consulting with relevant stakeholders on the implication of its directive before issuing it.
The union said it would be wrong to blame the high cost of doing business at the nation’s seaports on the terminal operators.
According to the MWUN, poor access roads to the port which gives rise to higher cost of trucking goods in and out of the ports; presence and practice of illegal tolls/extortions by various agencies operating in the ports both legally and illegally; activities of some customs men and officers which also add to the operational cost of ports; effect of congestion giving rise to demurrage and additional increase on the cost of clearing goods in the port; and delays in effecting custom examination all contribute to the high cost of doing business at the nation’s seaports.
“The Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria feels seriously aggrieved by the consequences of your directive as manifest in the refusal of our employers (i.e. Terminal Operators and Stevedoring Contractors) to negotiate the Dockworkers Condition of Service which is due for re-negotiation this year, 2014.
“Our members the Dockworkers have become restive and may resort to self-help action nationwide with effect from Monday 17th November 2014 if the Terminal Operators still refuse to negotiate on the grounds of being incapacitated by the directive.
“While humbly soliciting the Honourable Minister’s prompt intervention on this issue, we by copy of this letter to Shippers’ Council demand for immediate withdrawal of this biased directive to allow for search for a collective solution to the issue,” the union stated.
MWUN said its demand has became necessary to avert avoidable crisis in the maritime sector.
Confirming the workers’ action yesterday, STOAN Chairman, Princess (Dr.) Vicky Haastrup said that the strike had affected terminal operations and the revenue of her members. She however appealed to the union to call off the strike to allow for further dialogue.
“Negotiations are ongoing. These negotiations and review of the workers’ salaries are held every other year and we have faithfully implemented our part of the bargain.
“There are areas that have not been agreed on in the ongoing negotiations. We believe this will be resolved soon. We urge the workers to return to work as we conclude negotiations with the union leadership.
“The workers will not lose anything as we usually pay in arrears,” Haastrup said.
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