The recent protest by some dockworkers, which led to a near disruption of activities at the ports in Lagos, came as a shock to many. This was so because since the port reform and port concession exercise of 2006, Nigerian ports have enjoyed relative calm and peace hitherto unknown to the system.
Many will recall that prior to the reform, the port system in Nigeria was characterized by frequent strikes and work disruptions largely due to an unregulated docklabour industry. The situation at the time was such that operations at the ports were at the mercy of the all powerful 40,000-man strong maritime workers union, which did not hesitate to leverage on its sheer strength to ground port operations for the slightest reasons.
The port reform, which had docklabour reform as one of its key components, not only cleaned up the docklabour industry but also institutionalized measures to ensure hitch-free operations at the seaports.
The Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) was equally reformed with a set of new, mature and better-educated leaders emerging.
Terminal operators who took over cargo handling operations at the port worked with the union and regulatory agencies to ensure enhanced remuneration and welfare packages for the dockworkers. The National Joint Industrial Council (NJIC), made up of representatives of the Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria, Federal Ministry of Transportation, Nigerian Ports Authority, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency and the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, was set up to meet regularly to discuss and review dockworkers’ welfare, resulting in a biennial review of their emoluments. Terminal operators also make 10% contribution of total emoluments in favour of each dockworker in their employment towards the dockworkers’ retirement fund, while each dockworker contributes 8% in line with the Pension Commission Act.
No doubt, dockworkers at the port now enjoy much better working condition compared to what obtained in the pre-port concession era.
The focus and maturity of the present leadership of MWUN has also contributed greatly to the enhanced welfare of the workers and the peace experienced at the port. The union, under the leadership of Comrade Emmanuel Nted, rather than resort to unnecessary threats and industrial actions has utilized the tool of collective bargaining to achieve enhanced welfare packages for its members.
It must be emphasized that modern day labour unionism has gone beyond the use of strikes to coerce employers into doing the biddings of employees. Modern day labour leaders like the leaders of MWUN use collective bargaining and conciliation to resolve disputes.
Conciliation is particularly useful in resolving workers dispute without creating unnecessary acrimony, tension and work disruptions. This form of dispute resolution creates a platform where an impartial third party listens to the facts, suggests where there are strengths and weaknesses in each argument, and help employees and employers find common grounds to reach an agreement. This is precisely why the NJIC was set up.
The recent protest by this group of aggrieved dockworkers, who worked with ENL Consortium, would have been avoided if only they had channeled their grievances through the leaders of their union. The leaders would in turn have tabled same before the NJIC and ensured prompt resolution. This should serve as lesson for future industrial agitations. Dockworkers should understand that it is no longer business as usual. They must work with the leaders of their union to resolve disputes without unnecessarily overheating the system, causing avoidable loss of manhours.
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