Eromosele Abiodun writes that last week renewal of the Collective Bargaining Agreement first signed in 2019 shows that Nigeria is now committed to the welfare of dock workers in line with global best practices
On May 1, 2019, members of the Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN) signed a Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN).
The agreement, which was midwifed by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) alongside other associations in the maritime sector, will improve the welfare of dock workers in line with global best practices.
For those who may not be aware, shipping contributes over 90 per cent to the world economy. There are about 51,400 merchant ships plying all over the world, transferring goods between places, keeping the economy running. Whether it is oil from the Gulf or iPhones in containers being delivered from one part of the world to another – everything is running round the clock, with precision and diligence.
Also, ships carry more than 90 per cent of the world trade and these ships are manned and operated by seafarers. At the tail end of it are the dockworkers that offload the ships. Hence, it can be safely said that 90 per cent of mankind’s needs are being served by directly or indirectly by seafarers.
However, as critical as dock workers and seafarers are to the nation, they are often treated shabbily by ship owners and terminal operators. This has resulted in industrial action leading to shutdown of activity at the ports.
For instance, in 2018, maritime workers grounded port operations across the country as they staged protests against the repeal of the Nigerian Ports Authority(NPA) Act.
The industrial action by the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) and Senior Staff Association of Communication, Transportation and Corporation, which lasted for six and half hours, saw the terminal operators, seafarers, dockworkers and thousands of indirect workers at the Apapa, Tin Can, Onne and other port formations downing their tools.
President of NWUN Adewale Adeyanju, had alleged that the presentation of a new bill to repeal the NPA Act, 2004 was not done in good fate as none of the stakeholders in the sectors, especially the two unions, were invited to make input before passing the bill in the Senate.
According to him, the new bill sponsored in the House of Representatives by Nicholas Ossai, which aims to establish the Nigerian Ports and Harbour Authority, is a threat to the survival of the ports and job security of workers.
He recalled that the concession of the seaports in 2006 had led to the loss of 12,000 jobs when the operations of the NPA were ceded to private terminal operators.
“We cannot pinpoint any major deficiency in the present NPA Act that warranted this bill except that the promoters of the bill want to corner for themselves harbour operations, which are the major foreign exchange earner for the NPA and by extension the Federal Government, without thinking about the security implications to the nation and the negative effect on the workforce as it was previously done during the concession exercise, “Adeyanju said.
That was not all, early 2016, dockworkers at ENL Consortium, operator of Terminals C and D of the Lagos Port Complex (LPC), Apapa embarked on a strike to protest ill treatment by the management of the company. While the company argued that it was ready to pay off dockworkers who have elected to quit their jobs, the dockworkers insisted it was not so.
Legal Adviser of ENL Consortium, Uzamot Boye had said that contrary to claims in certain quarters, workers were issued with valid employment letters when they joined the company.
However, in a bid to ensure a better living standard for dock workers in the Nigeria maritime industry, STOAN, NIMASA alongside other associations in the sector under the aegis of the National Joint Industrial Council (NJIC) in 2019, signed a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), which is intended to improve the welfare of dock workers in line with global best practices.
The agreement, which was documented involves increases in their wages and allowances and certain emoluments and benefits, which include: payment of redundancy and retirement benefits by terminal operators to aged dockworkers, payment of specified allowances to a deceased dock worker’s next of kin and pension contribution scheme for dock workers amongst other items listed in the agreement.
The NJIC is the body responsible for negotiating and reviewing of minimum standards for dock labour industry. It was constituted in 2008 following the need to establish minimum standards for the Dock Labour Industry after the ports were concessioned in 2006.
The agency is statutorily empowered under section 27(1) (b) of NIMASA Act 2007 to facilitate the NJIC meetings and circulate signed Agreements to all concerned parties. Further to this, the Agency is also to ensure strict compliance on implementation of the CBA.
Before the CBA was signed, NIMASA had early 2017 restated its commitment to the welfare of dock workers in the industry. Ahmed had during a meeting with employers and labour unions in Lagos noted that the initiative was with a view to use the tool of constant engagement to ensure that the dock workers’ get better living conditions in line with International Labour laws.
Speaking during the signing ceremony of CBA in Lagos, the former Chairman of the NJIC, Mr. Gambo Ahmed, noted that dock labour was an integral part of the maritime industry, hence the need to place priority on their welfare.
He urged operators to bear in mind that the welfare of the dock workers would impact a lot on ports operations and in turn the entire economy, hence the need to ensure that they are properly catered for.
The latest CBA, which was signed at the NIMASA in Lagos, was expected to lead to further increase in the wages, allowances and retirement benefits payable to the dockworkers. The agreement would be operational for three years.
The CBA, which is for a two-year period, is intended to ensure industrial peace in the maritime industry. It involves requirements for the fair treatment of dockworkers, principally, making sure every employee gets an employment letter and a package of terminal benefits when their contract expires.
The Chairman, STOAN, Vicky Haastrup, who led other members of STOAN to sign the agreement with the union, noted that terminal operators had ensured industrial harmony at the seaports since 2006 by prioritizing the welfare of dockworkers.
She said: “We are happy as employers of labour to give the dockworkers the wages they rightly deserve. It is always our joy to bring succour and joy into the hearts of our workers. Before the 2006 port concession, the monthly income of an average dockworker was less than five thousand naira but today, we make bold to say that we now pay our dockworkers very well.
“Our dock workers are now well respected and well compensated for the work they do. This is because we acknowledge dockworkers as the bedrock of port operation. Before we became their employers, dockworkers were not respected. They were seen as troublemakers and thugs at the ports. But today, we have worked together with the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria to change narrative.”
She added: “Dockworkers are professional quayside workers who are vital to port operation. They are essential workers and we are happy to treat and remunerate them as such. I am proud to say that the present crop of dock workers at the various ports across the country are well trained and they conduct themselves professionally.”
Also speaking, the President-General of MWUN, Adeyanju, commended the federal government for concessioning the ports to private terminal operators.
Adeyanju said the port concession programme had impacted positively on the lives of port workers through the improved welfare package instituted by terminal operators.
He said prior to the port concession in 2006, the wages of dock workers were “nothing to write home about” but all that has changed since the concessionaires (terminal operators) took over.
He said: “The era of using dockworkers as slaves in their fatherland no longer exists. We want to thank the Federal Government for concessioning the ports because that reform has changed the lives of dockworkers all over the nation’s seaports.
“Before concessioning, the wages of dockworkers was nothing to write home about. In those days, an average dockworker that worked for eight hours a day would go home with four thousand naira at the end of the month. We used to have stevedoring contractors but they did not care about the welfare of the workers. Some of the stevedoring contractors even ran away with the pensions of dockworkers.”
Adeyanju added “But since the terminal operators came in, we have seen the difference between the stevedoring contractors of those days and the terminal operators of today. We have been enjoying the present arrangement. My happiness today is to see the dockworkers retire back home with something reasonable as retirement benefit.”
Also speaking, Executive Director, Cabotage and Maritime Labour at NIMASA, Victor Ochei, commended STOAN and MWUN for signing the new agreement.
He urged all concerned to ensure full implementation of the agreement for the benefit of the dockworkers.
Ochei, who represented the Director-General of NIMASA, Dr. Bashir Jamoh, stated that NIMASA was committed to the pursuit of global best practices in the design and implementation of conditions of service for dockworkers.
He said: “NIMASA would monitor the implementation of the CBA to ensure that all dockworkers in Nigeria are protected and catered for in line with the International Labour Organisation’s Decent Work Agenda, which focuses on job creation, rights at work, social protection and social dialogue, with gender equality as a crosscutting objective.”
Ochei clarified that there would be follow-up agreements by the different dock labour employers and stakeholders to guarantee maximum protection for dockworkers wherever they worked within the sector.
“But all other agreements subsequent to this one would be an addendum to the CBA, which is intended to ensure that minimum standards, as enshrined in the relevant laws and conventions, are respected, “Ochei stated.
In her remarks, Director, Trade Union Services and Industrial Relations (TUSIR), Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, Mrs. Omoabie Akpan, who represented the Minister, said the improved conditions of service in the CBA would have a ripple effect by increasing the productivity of the dockworkers, all for the good of the industry and the economy.
Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, praised the leadership of the dock labour community in Nigeria for helping to create the conducive atmosphere in which the agreement was hashed out.
Amaechi, who was represented by a deputy director in the ministry, pledged the federal government’s commitment to the implementation of the CBA.
Protecting dock workers
NIMASA had last year assured stakeholders of its commitment to the protection of the rights and welfare of dockworkers as guaranteed in the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Decent Work Agenda.
Ochei had gave the assurance in Lagos during a meeting of the National Joint Industrial Council (NJIC).
The meeting discussed a revised minimum wage and improved living standard for dockworkers through the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) initiative endorsed by NIMASA and NJIC in 2018.
Ochei stated: “Dockworkers are integral to efficient and effective stevedoring operation and the NJIC has remained resolute in ensuring harmonious working relationships through the principle of tri-partism and the execution of Collective Bargaining Agreements on minimum standards for the dock labour industry.”
Ochei, who is also Chairman of NJIC, extolled the efforts of the dock workers to keep the maritime industry afloat, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. He said NIMASA was determined to ensure the dockworkers got what was due to them.
He called on the council members to cooperate with NIMASA towards ensuring meaningful negotiations that would culminate in the signing of another CBA. He stated that the agency had made necessary arrangements for successful council proceedings.
He added that the success of the exercise would further demonstrate Nigeria’s compliance and commitment to the ideals of the ILO Decent Work Agenda, which seeks to promote safe work, decent wage, and freedom of association.
The representative of the Federal Ministry of Labour, Mrs. Joyce Udoinwang, expressed the Ministry’s commitment to the welfare of dockworkers, assuring of its resolve to ensure no dockworker in Nigeria is short-changed. Udoinwang appealed for more cooperation from all the parties involved in the tripartite agreement.
Speaking also at the meeting, the representative of the Seaports Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN), Kunle Folarin, applauded NIMASA for its role over the years to promote peace and harmonious labour relations in the industry. Folarin said NJIC would cooperate with the Agency to sustain peace and sanity at the ports.