By DAPO OLAWUNI
The Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) would be shutting down Nigerian ports any moment from now following the alleged insensitivity of shipping companies about the welfare and remuneration of their workers.
The union had on Tuesday issued a 21-days ultimatum to the shipping companies to have a seat down and negotiate with the union on setting a new benchmark on the terminal benefits and allowances for the workers.
Apparently, the union has been struggling to have a meeting with the shipping companies since May 2019, but the shipping companies have been evasive and foot dragging, an attitude which the union considers to be an affront.
While addressing a press conference at the MWUN Secretariat in Apapa on Friday, President of the Shipping Branch of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) Comrade Ekpeyong Etim Ekepeyong said the shipping companies are not interested in the welfare of the Nigerian workers in the industry, rather they focus on their own commercial interests.
According to him, the shipping companies engage in outsourcing of jobs belonging to Nigerians to third parties, all because of cheap labour and because they do not want to pay terminal benefits to workers.
Comrade Ekpeyong said the last time any negotiation was made between the union and the shipping companies was in year 2008.
Since the 21-days ultimatum was issued on Tuesday, Comrade Ekpeyong noted that none of the shipping companies have felt any remorse or indicated interest in renegotiating with the union. He warned that the union at the expiration of these ultimatum would be forced to shut down the premises of the shipping companies.
Comrade Ekpeyong told journalists that “Since this administration began, the MWUN President General, Comrade Adewale Adeyanju has been looking for ways to interact with the shipping companies but they have been evasive, we have written series of letters and even reminded them but the response we got from them was that they were not aware of any issues”
“Our interest is in the industry, we have sat down and found out that the employers are only interested in their commercial interests, they collaborate with each other on increasing their rates while the progress of the workers who are the wheel for the wealth of the industry is not there”
“We use to have a benchmark for the NJIC, but in 2010, the employers came up and said that the NJIC cannot work any longer, rather, it should be plan by plan negotiation. But we are saying right now is that we must have a benchmark, what we had ten years ago can no longer apply” he said
The unionist noted that in the last six years, there has been a continuous downsizing of workers in the shipping sector, adding that it is as a result of outsourcing of duties to third party vendors. He said the union have continuously fought it, and argued that such third parties must approach the union.
Speaking further, he said “The rate of our terminal benefit with the shipping companies have been static for the past twelve years, we tried to call their attention to negotiate it but they have refused to answer”
“We have written letters to them as an association and copying the individual companies telling them that there is need for us to talk, we have been expecting responses from them since May last year”
So far, we have not gotten any responses since we issued the 21 days ultimatum, if they fail to come up, the union would activate other ways of ensuring that they come to us”
“We have lost count of our members that have been sacked by shipping companies, but in the wisdom of the President General, he is the one that has been holding us down and helping us to ameliorate some of these challenges, if not so, some of us have blood flowing in our veins and we would shut down all these shipping companies, they are not implementing what they should”
“The National Assembly is now promulgating a law that would stop outsourcing, contract staff. It has passed second reading and we are praying that it would sail through”
“What shipping companies do is to come into Nigeria and get the cheapest labour they could have and the indigenous managers are helping them to do that because of their selfish interests”
The maritime workers union insisted that empty containers belongs to the shipping companies and their principals abroad, hence they have the obligation to take them back and make sure Nigerian port roads are rid of trucks carrying empty containers.