In this exclusive interview with Comrade Ekpenyong Etim, President, Shipping branch, Maritime Workers Union Of Nigeria, he talked about effect the abandoned ports access road is having on businesses.
Question: Can we have a brief insight about your activities as the shipping arm of Maritime Workers Union Of Nigeria (MWUN)?
Answer: The Maritime Workers Union Of Nigeria have four departments, the NPA, Dockworkers, Seafarers and the Shipping branch. These names explain their jurisdictions and what they stands for . NPA as a government parastatal is the regulators in the industry just like we have NIMASA and Shippers’ Council. NPA before concession was the owner of the ports, it takes care and administer things in the ports, but since the concession, it ceased to be the owner of the ports, it now regulates. The union takes care of the workers welfare, same thing as the dockworkers at the key apron where all the jobs are done and the Shipping arm is the one that brings the Ship in because the Shipping branch is the union in the Shipping subsector of Maritime workers Union of Nigeria. All the companies operating in the sector, the companies in charge of freight forwarding, the logistics companies who are not purely Shipping companies are also included. These are the scope that the Shipping branch of Maritime Workers Union Of Nigeria covers. When the ships brings goods from any part of the world, we have dockworkers where the ships are to offload their goods, even the ships that brings in the goods, you know we have the crews even the Nigerian ships within the territorial waters of Nigeria, the seafarers are there taking care of that. Also, we have the water front where we have the boats within which is the area of National Inland Waterways Authority, (NIWA) transport , all those one’s are under the convey of seafarers. So the Shipping basically is in charge of all the workforce in the Shipping industry of the subsector of Maritime Workers Union Of Nigeria , that is where we cover. Majorly, the union is for the welfare of workers, to try and see how workers in the sector secure a better working condition, better welfare packages, better employment conditions and everything that takes care of Nigeria’s workers welfare and benefits in this maritime industry, as far as shipping is concern, that is the work of the union.
Question : Let’s look at the area of training, has the union put in place any form of training for the members?
Answer: Yes we have different trainings plans in place for our members, even though we always liaise with management to see how workers are trained on the job. Also our members who are union officers and representatives of the workers are also being trained quarterly and annually.
We also have internal trainings, training within the country and outside the country. Although this year we have not gotten any form of training outside the country, but we had it last year and even then we have training organized by the institute of Labour at Ilorin. They have different courses and workshops of which we chose the one’s that suits our members. We have also at different point in time bring in management to sponsor workers, mostly the labour leaders who represents the workforce in that company to also assess whatever courses those institute are rendering so as to educate members on how to engage management in meetings, knowing fully well that not every issues in the respective shipping companies that the mother union will jump into, but the representatives of the workers can engage their management at the level that the constitution allows.
These training helps to build them on the modalities of how to engage management at their own level of which the mother union will steps in if its above the workers representatives.
Question: You talked about welfare packages, what are the welfare modalities put in place for your members?
Answer: The union as it is have employed secretariat staff. We take care of their salaries and benefits, as we go out to negotiate for our members who are working in various shipping company’s, looking out for their improved working condition in the industry , so also the union takes care of the welfare of the secretariat staff as they are also part of the Union. So the Union also look out for their own welfare in terms of increasing of salaries. Take for instance, the minimum wage going on now, in this industry, we have a memorandum of agreement with employers because it’s not every time the federal government increase the minimum wage that we also increase ours, so we try to be above government benchmark. That window is there, the gap is higher than what government does as the employers in the industry doesn’t want a situation whereby if government brings a Naira, the union will in like manner rush to them with such policies. To avoid such, they move above what government does so that whatever happens to civil service will not get to them. The issue of minimum wage going on now, if it were to be here, business will not flow and employers are private business owners and as such will not want such issue to affect their business. The same thing apply to our internal workers, year in year out we look into salary increment and promotions where applicable as they are the administrative officers while we are elected and working in various companies. Apart from that their salaries are paid by the national, because we also contributes to national pulse, so they are staff of the national, but because they are working at the branch, we at the branch also have to see what we can do to leverage on, not leaving everything to the national pulse and that is what is obtainable at other branches.
Question: We hardly hear of the shipping branch of Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria going on strike, what would you say is the secret behind it?
Answer: The secret behind it is the of the application in place, in fact that is the A-Z of it, we don’t believe in hitting table, banging table or shutting the gate , we try to engage management in constructive dialogue. Shipping is a white man work, they bring in the ships and when they employ you, see them with their tie in the offices, you hardly see Shipping workers at the ports except those going for releasing and tallying, because at that time the setting was that all the tallying work will be done by NPA staff, while the work of the shipping company is to release. Although its changed now, with the concession as soon as the goods are released ,dockworkers takes it over from there to arrange it, load the trucks and take it out of the ports area and terminals for delivery, all this are the work of the dockworkers.
Purely Shipping work is more or less in the office and we have good atmosphere in the office and the whites who are the owners of the shipping companies will not want their gate closed because time is money, for ship berthing they pay in dollars and if the ship stays a little over the days its supposed to stay they will have charges to pay and its in dollars, so whenever we table an issue before them they look into it fast.
Most multinationals who knows the important of time don’t want problems and when we submit our proposals they don’t waste time in trashing it, apart from that the industry as it is designed with this administration in the past 8 to 10 years we have tried to model the administration of the shipping industry to be in such agreement which governs modalities of how we engage with management, workers and workers Union which everybody signed.
New incoming companies would have to look at the standards of the industry and also queue behind this standards. We have agreed that any year we proposed to have increment in basic salaries, allowances or any of such needs, we will put them down, we call it letter of demands or proposals. Things we proposed to the management that needs to be tackled, the process which is called collective bargaining agreement and is backed by the law.
The law for such agreement says three months to the expiration of former agreement we should render another one, that three months gives the employer time to contact their management to look at all that its stated in the agreement. Where to shift ground before meeting for a roundtable talk to negotiate. Because in the right sense, the one sent by the union is a proposal of which we may get it or not. Its not expected that all the listed items will be attended to, but in the cause of negotiations whatever we agreed upon is what is called collective bargaining and that is the agreement as soon as the MOU is signed ,you pay our workers.
We have been doing that and it is seamless, and if the management is answering you why would you want to close the gates and when you close the gates for two to three days with no business, will you have the moral right to ask for increment when business has already been lost? But when it gets to the extreme whereby we are push to the wall , literally the union will not fold their arms and look at the management, we will rather try all means in resolving the matter, but in the situation whereby the management is deviant then, we will use the tools in our hands in the labour market which is to close the gate after given them period of time to put things in place and when not met, we give ultimatum and if at the expiration of the ultimatum no action is taken, then the next thing is for us to take action.
So far so good the employers in the industry have been cooperating, we are partners in progress and they don’t want destruction of their business and for we also we know that the essence of lucking gate or given ultimatum is to draw management attention and come to terms with what we discussed and if management comes to term and we settle amicably there will be no need to flex muscles.
Question : How would you rate the port access roads and its effect on businesses generally?
Answer: That’s another story entirely, even a blind man knows that trailers are not moving , it has become a nightmare, one of the problems that has refuses to go due to the attitude of the management of the roads.
For the past seven years towards the second tenure of former President, Goodluck Jonathan that they started this road and end at nowhere, the government have been unable to complete it, further which was the beginning of the problems of the road and before you know it the other axis of Ijora to the port also was affected.
The bad road has really affected businesses, because when we go to the table and discuss increase in allowances for workers, this is the first thing that the employers will asked and because we are not just consultant to negotiate we work in the companies , we also know, we feel the pains and we can see what the management are passing through. When the clients can not moved their containers out of the ports not to talk of bringing back empties, then the Shipping companies who don’t want to lose their clients will have to cut down on demurrage. For crying out loud, this is the gateway of the nations economy, it has been slow down. Most times we sympathises with the employers just that we have no where to go to.
It has really slow down businesses and when business is slow down the revenue will not come, you are bound to give concession, waivers and that is revenue that is lost which will in turn affect your budget.
Its really affecting businesses and as we have been saying in every forum, that government should fix this road leading to the ports to be like the other Countries knowing fully well that its the gateway to the nations economy.