The President General of Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) Comrade Adewale Adeyanju, has assured maritime workers and stakeholders that they will experience a new dawn with his emergence as the Deputy President of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC).
In this interview with Maritime Today Online’ Shulammite Foyeku, Adeyanju said he would use his new position to resolve challenges maritime workers are still facing with some employers of labour including foreign shipping companies operating in the country, assuring that no worker will be marginalized.
You were recently elected as the first deputy President of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC). What does this position mean to you more so that it is also the first time someone from the maritime sector is occupying this position.
It is a call to duty and for me to add more to what we have been doing over the years. When a new feather is added to one’s cap, it is for the person to improve on what he has been doing. So, I’m elated and happy about it because it is for the generality of workers in the maritime industry. This is also the first time we are having someone from the industry and I believe I won’t be the last. I’m praying to have someone that will take over from me to even become the President of the NLC in the future. But what is important for me now is to deliver as we have been doing before and improve upon the services that we have been called upon to do because this is a call to service and I believe the workers in the industry will see the better side of the union this time around. It is not going to be the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria affairs alone but Nigerians as a whole. My prayer is that God should give us more time and energy to do more.
What impact will your new position have on maritime workers especially in resolving some of the contending issues you still have with some employers of labour?
It will no longer be like when we have issues in the industry, we keep on taking our matters before the authorities in Abuja, now part of the NLC top leadership is also in Lagos. So whatever problem is affecting the stakeholders within the private sector, be it the terminal operators, the Nigerian Port Authority (NPA) or the industry at large, I believe the congress will give the support as they have been doing before. This is the first time they have ceded the power of NLC to the private sector and MWUN was able to be part of the new arrangement so we need to deliver. We must be able to correct some of the mistakes we have made in the past so that workers in the industry will know they have somebody representing them at the highest level of the NLC. We are giving them 100 percent assurance that our new position will be used to resolve some of the challenges they are having with the employers of labour like IOCs and shipping companies. They will see a new dawn in the sector as against where the workers might have been marginalized by some of these fake employers of labour. This time around, we are not going to accept that anymore. So, it is a plus not only for the union but all the stakeholders that are operating within the maritime sector. They are going to see a different union because this is the first time we are seeing the private sector managing the affairs of the Labour movement in Nigeria. So, you are going to see a vibrant NAC in NLC that will be able to manage the challenges workers are facing. We all know what has been happening within the sector. We have been talking to the authorities about the condition of our roads. Look at Tin Can Island roads, the hoodlums have taken over the roads leading to the port. That is what we have been telling the NPA that they should do total cleansing and remove people that don’t have anything in the port. They should work hand in hand with the Lagos state government and ensure access to the port is clean so there can be free flow of traffic.
Bring us up to speed with your negotiation with shipping companies. How far have you gone with the demand for a minimum standard for shipping workers?
It is unfortunate that the employers of labour in shipping are trying to be funny and are not ready to sit down with the union to negotiate the welfare package of the shipping workers in the industry. Where other branches under the union have Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with their employers, the Shipping Association of Nigeria (SAN) are trying to shift responsibility by asking the workers to go and discuss individually with their employers.
What we are saying is that there should be a minimum standard for the shipping workers as obtainable with the dockworkers and seafarers. If you look at what is going on in the shipping companies, the workers are not well remunerated, and if anybody is going on retirement, it is like a death sentence. This is what I have been saying over the years and you also remembered we have declared a state of emergency in the shipping sector, but this time around, we have said that enough is enough, we must have a minimum standard in the shipping sector. If we have a minimum standard, it will be better for the workers that are working under them.
The shipping companies are investors, they came to invest in Nigeria and the workers too should be empowered. They must improve their remuneration of workers because what they are presently giving to their workers is nothing to write home about.
It is not a new thing that we are asking for negotiation, we have an existing agreement. If SAN is saying the workers should negotiate individually with their employers, we are not saying no because already we have individual negotiation between the employer and employee from different companies but what we are saying is that we want a body that should be regulating the shipping companies so that there will be a minimum standard as we have in other branches and that is why we have SAN. But if SAN is now telling us that they are not the one to do that, then somebody should come out and speak on behalf SAN.
Unfortunately, this issue has been on for some time. What efforts has the union made to reach out to the shipping companies and what has been the response?
We have had several meetings with the shipping companies. In fact, a committee that we set up about two years ago reconvened late last year and last week meeting was the one that broke the camel’s back when the representative of SAN said there is no way there were going to have meeting with the union because they have what they called individual negotiations from various companies. We have been on this matter for the past four years, and there is no way they will tell us that they cannot sit with the union unless they continue with their anti labour practice.
Just as it is in other branches, the shipping industry should have a template in employing people. If I’m employed by a shipping company, I should have a minimum standard. We want a body that would regulate the shipping industry.
Have you engaged the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) in this regard?
Prior to issuing this ultimate, we have already written to all stakeholders including the Shippers Council. So, they are aware of it. It is not new to them because we have been on this matter for the past four years. So, If NSC is supposed to be the regulatory body, then they should come out.
A seven-day ultimatum has been given. Initially, we gave 21 days and it has since elapsed. By the time this ultimatum expires and we don’t hear anything from SAN, the owner of the problem will come out. We cannot continue with the attitude of some of these investors who came into the country to make so much money at the expense of the poor workers. The primary objective of a leader is to protect the welfare of workers and stakeholders because we are all supposed to be on the same page.
The NJIC agreement is not new. It has been in existence for a long time. But when I came on board, I said there is a need for us to review it because we already have a standard but they are running away from the old agreement and that is why they don’t want us to sit down and review it.
What’s the update on the issue of takeover of Bollore and TICT? Are the workers still insisting that they want to be paid off before the takeover?
The matter is still on and I believe the issue of Bollore takeover is no longer news. It has been bought over but the management of the TICT and Bollore are yet to get back to us even though they have written to us confirming that it has been taken over. But our stand still remains that the workers still need to be paid off and they have to sign a new agreement which the management of TICT and MSC are yet to get it off with the union. Now that we are back, we will write to them so that they can tell the world that it has been bought over but the mind of the workers in the companies is for them to be paid for the services done so they can continue with the new management. The union cannot run away from the responsibility of not backing the workers because they are the ones that have suffered under the old management and now that a new management is coming to take over, there should be a new arrangement with the workers.
On the issue with IOCs?
Several ultimatums have been given and the management of NPA has sent some names to us on those that have complied and as we speak, they have started engaging some stevedoring contractors duly appointed by NPA. We will hear from NPA to know how many of the IOCs have thus far complied.