March 28, 2023

Maritime Today Online

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Adeyanju changed the face of maritime workers union- Ekpenyong

Comrade Ekpenyong Ekpenyong is the President, Shipping branch of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN). In this interview with Shulammite ‘Foyeku, he speaks glowingly of Comrade Adewale Adeyanju’s achievements as President General of MWUN and how his leadership style has impacted positively on workers’ welfare.   

The Shipping branch joined the other three branches of the MWUN to re-elect Comrade Adewale Adeyanju for a second term. What is the justification for his re-election?

Comrade Adeyanju is a leader that has changed the face of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria within four years that I have worked with him. When he was the National treasure, I was a district Chairman and by the providence of God and what the union decided, he came down to be the President of the Dockworkers branch and throughout the eight years he served as President, we have always interacted because I was also a branch treasurer.  Adeyanju grew from the system to become who he is today. Looking at the antecedents of dockworkers, Adeyanju can best be described as a reformer. He took over from the initiator, the immediate past President General, Anthony Nted and also keyed into the reforms and promoted the peace that we all are enjoying in the port today. He has helped workers to achieve better welfare packages in the industry. Adeyanju is one of those we look at as fathers in the industry. He has put his footprints on the sands of time because he has continued from where Nted stopped and improved in all the areas. Before now, you won’t talk about re-election and we don’t have problems at the port. It is not just because of COVID-19 that made us want to have our delegate conference here in Lagos it is because everywhere is calm and there is peace among the union. He has studied the system and sees where the problems were and blocks all those areas. That era of pouncing tables, carrying guns because of the election is gone. Adeyanju has improved tremendously on the legacies of his predecessor as a person that loves the system. He takes the system as if it is his own and he wants it to work. I see him as a stabilizer. Adeyanju has established projects and ventured into other areas of investments that can help the union have other means of income.

As the President of the shipping branch, in what areas has the Adeyanju- led MWUN impacted on your branch?

He has put in foresight to see how we can generate revenue more than what we get from check off dues. Apart from that, he has declared a state of emergency in shipping because the take home and retirement benefit do not actually take people home. We want an appreciable increase in salaries and not peanuts. It is not as if he wants to cause tension in the system by declaring a state of emergency but to dialogue with them because that is his style of leadership. We have seen his passion towards the total emolument and the end of service take home for workers. We are now meeting with the Chief Executives of the shipping companies even though all of them are not at the meeting but they have their representatives, so we are meeting. Comrade Adeyanju wants to see an average Nigeria that works in this industry especially in shipping to be adequately compensated for the work they do.

So far, are you satisfied with the level of engagement with the shipping companies?

The engagement we have with the shipping companies is a bit different from what we had before that many companies were hiding under COVID-19 even when their ships were berthing. But so far so good, the union under Adeyanju has taken a very good dimension. Some companies have taken up an education allowance which we presented to them some years back. We brought in furniture and education allowance as items for negotiation to assist workers. That has been going on for almost 10 years now but each time we bring them on the table, no company is willing to take it up, especially the furniture aspect. Some of them look at it that furniture is luxury but education will help with training their children. So presently, some of the shipping companies in the industry have picked up the negotiation on education allowance to assist workers pay their children school fees.

Given his background as President of the dockworkers branch before he became PG, some people see Comrade Adeyanju to be more interested in dockworkers affairs. Do you share the same view of him?

The business that we do in maritime is intertwined. When the ship berths, it is the dockworkers that will remove the containers from the ship, stack them before the importer will come through their agent and release them. Comrade Adeyanju will always say,” If there is no ship, dockworkers will not work.” So I do not see him as PG of dockworkers but that of the Maritime Workers Union. He has always wanted the shipping branch to be properly and adequately remunerated just as he is fighting for improved welfare for the dockworkers.

In what areas would you like the Adeyanju- led MWUN to improve on in the next four years?

We are not only looking at the President General, we are also part of the system. If he fails, all of us fail. So we are looking at concretising all the policies that he has started and ensuring that they are moving. We are also looking at investing in new areas like the waterways by acquiring boats. It is not enough to criticise employers of labour that they are not doing enough, we should also contribute to employ our members because we have the wherewithal to do it. It is not enough also to register for haulage and buy trucks; we want to see new projects come up so that at the end of the second term, we can clap our hands that we have delivered on our mandate.  We want to ensure we correct what we saw was wrong in the beginning and initiate new projects. The ultimate aim is to ensure workers are given the best in terms of remuneration and support when they retire.  In the system now, when somebody resigns, it is on basic salary and what the employers of labour are doing is they refuse to put money into basic salary. That means when you resign your employment, your take home is calculated through basic salary but now, we have put in a proposal that whether you resign or not, workers should get their total emolument because they have earned that allowance overtime. Workers in the industry would no longer be beggars because we are now stakeholders in the business. In this second term, we are going to work to ensure that the union prides herself in the likes of medical workers’ unions that have sources of revenue. With those investments, even when workers are retrenched or retired and they are still active, healthy enough to work, we will employ them and give them life to live.