…Blames Shipowners for Accepting Fake Certificates
Eng Bob Yousuo is the President of Nigerian Merchant Navy Officers and Water Transporters Senior Staff Association.
In this interview with our correspondent at the recent commissioning of the unions’ National Secretariat in Apapa, Eng Yousuo urged all seafarers to identify with the union in order to get a good condition of service from their employers and to put an end to seafarers enslavement.
Eng. Yousuo also blamed Nigerian seafarers for encouraging fake certification among seafarers because they want to pay poor salaries to seafarers.
How do you feel after commissioning of your secretariat?
We give God all the glory, we have come a long way, this is a vision that we had, but nobody believed that this vision would come to pass so soon, even some believed that we can make it but majority of even my lieutenants never believed that it would come to pass so soon. So, I give God the glory because it came successfully.
What would be your next action in terms of seafarers welfare?
My administration has a plan, we have now gotten a beffiting secretariat, the next year, we are going to start visiting from one company to another, we would not force them, we would persuade the seafarers. With this, the seafarers already know that there is a body that can solve their challenges, all that remains is to dialogue and make the seafarers know that without the union, they cannot achieve anything they are doing, we have to preach to remand fight for them. There are two ways to fight for the seafarers, we cannot fight for a seafarer who does not have a Condition of Service, many seafarers are suffering today because they do not have CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement), if the seafarers of a shipping company have gotten CBA, we review it every two years, they already know what will happen, as a seafarer, you cannot just be working and they are owing you salary, if they owe you salary, it is because you do not have any agreements with them.
So, the earlier the seafarers know that they must join a union, either the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, or the senior officers Union of which we are their representative, we are affiliated with ITF and TUC.
So, this is the only legal body that they have that would fight for their welfare.
There has been a proliferation of Merchant Navy associations in Nigeria, how can we clean up the system?
This is the only legal and constituted body, if we were not constituted, the ITF would not have been here, TUC, NIMASA, all would not be relating with us, and we have our gazetted information and everything anybody wants to know.
Just like we have the proliferation of churches in Nigeria today, every other person can come up and form a merchant navy association, just like we have the proliferation of churches today, the Catholics remain, no matter the churches that pulled out from them, many of the Merchant Navy associations you see making noise today, they are all thinking of their selfish interests, they are thinking of how to dupe the seafarers, they would not say the truth, all they think is that the uniform is the priority. But for us here, our priority is to ensure that there is a good package and remuneration for the workers, uniform would not put food on their table, the uniform is our right, but we dont put it as a criteria, a Nigerian seafarers needs a good package.
If any of these illegal bodies go against the law of Nigeria, the law would take its course. Many of them you see today do not have Certificates of Competency (COC), they just put on the uniform and start moving around, for those that have the COC, they know that this is the right union they must belong to.
When any seafarer comes to us, our own is to give them direction by ensuring that they are certified and they go to work.
ITF has said they are working with your union to address the shortfall in number of Nigerian seafarers abroad
Their are issues we have been handling and dealing with NIMASA on daily basis, we have written letters and so on.
It is not that Nigerian certificates are not recognised abroad, it is just that we have not signed any bilateral agreement with other countries, and when we dont have bilateral agreements with them, they would not want to Nigerian seafarers. We are are urging NIMASA to ensure that we are recognised, it is not that our certificate does not have value.
The NIMASA should expunge the Near Coastal Voyage (NCV) on our certificates in order to make it more attractive for us to work in other countries. Every country is protecting their workforce, if you go to Europe today, they have their union and they are one, they do not want anybody from outside to come and take their jobs, but in Nigeria here, we have the union, but the seafarers don’t want to come and register, their thinking is that you want to deduct checkoff dues from them.
If all Seafarers in Nigeria can be united, no foreigner will come and take our jobs, we won’t even need to travel out of Nigeria to seek jobs, we have enough jobs in Nigeria as it is, but the expatriates have taken them over, they want to push us out.
There is the prevalence of fake certificates among seafarers, how can we put a stop to this?
Falsification is a national issue, it does not happen in seafaring profession alone, all the stakeholders should be blamed, we blame Nigerian shipowners for accepting fake certificates because they want to pay poor salaries to seafarers, if you want to pay a seafarer what he is worth, you must check his ticket, but shipowners just pick anybody to work for them, they know that the persons certificate is fake, but they do not want to employ the right people.
Secondly, NIMASA should also be held responsible because they are a regulatory body, they are inspectors, and anything certificate passes through them, so, they supposed to know which certificate is fake or original.
The seafarers are also at fault, we as a union have been kicking against falsification, we dont encourage seafarers to engage in it, but it is a tripartite thing, the shipowners have to check and pay seafarers a reasonable salary, NIMASA on their own must verify.
There has been a spike in pirate attacks on our waters, how has it affected Nigerian seafarers?
We have been trying our best, everyday our people are being attacked, if you look at the fishing sector, the attacks has been a recurring decimal, but the union is doing its best, we can only appeal and write to the government, but it is the Nigerian Navy and NIMASA that are in charge of the dead, so we always appeal to them to beef up the security on the waterways, insecurity in Nigeria is a national issue, it is not only on the sea.
We as a union assist the seafarers, whenever any of our members are kidnapped, we assist the families to ensure that they are released.
There is no way you can totally stop crime, the more you try to stop them, they would device another system, so I still believe that it is Navy and NIMASA responsibility.
Do you think it is lack of employment by seafarers that is causing this piracy?
I would not say it is lack of employment, because the piracy itself is a very risky job, i dont think lack of employment would take anyone to sea, buy a gun, speedboats and so on, if you want to employ yourself even with the money expended to get all these items, it is enough, not to now talk of the risk involved. If you have your certificates and you want to do a sea job, all you have to do is apply.
You have promised to resist seafarers enslavement, how do you want to go about it?
First and foremost, the seafarers must come back to their father’s house, they must see this union as their home, they should allow us to unionise their companies, when we come into that company, we would get their CBA done, and we review it every two years, at that company we would have unit executives, with this, seafarers enslavement cannot happen again because, if the company does not pay, we would know, if they dont keep to the terms and agreement of the CBA, we would know. The condition of service is the right of the seafarer in any company.