By DAPO OLAWUNI
There is light at the end of the tunnel for Nigerian seafarers as the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) have concluded signing of the review to update the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC 2006) which would be forwarded to the Honorable Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi by way of regulation.
The MLC 2006, a convention of the International Labour Organization (ILO) seeks to establish good welfare, payment and minimum working and living standards for all seafarers working on ships flying the flags of ratifying countries.
On June 8, 2013, Nigeria, led by the then Minister of Labour and Productivity, Chief Emeka Wogu become the 37th member state to ratifiy the MLC 2006 at the 102 conference of the ILO held in Geneva, Switzerland
DAILY TREND NEWS reports that eight years down the line, Nigeria is yet to domesticate the law, while Nigerian seafarers have continued to suffer neglect, poor remuneration and working conditions onboard vessels.
Our correspondent gathered that, the first step towards domestication of the convention is a meeting of the National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC) which has to seat and discuss it. However, the NLAC failed to meet in the past six years until recently in March 2021
The NLAC was established in 1955 as the highest tripartite body on labour matters with the responsibility of promoting and ensuring best practice of labour administration in line with international standards as well as recommend to the National Assembly on the ratification of international labour standards.
As a fall out of the NLAC meeting in March 2021, there was a Ministerial Committee on Review of Labour Laws set up to update the law. This Committee membership cuts across the Ministries of Labour, Transportation, National Assembly and Ministry of Justice.
Speaking with DAILY TREND NEWS last week, a high ranking NIMASA Official who is a Regional Maritime expert on MLC 2006 stated that for Nigeria, there is no delay with the domestication of the MLC 2006 because it is already being implemented through the local laws.
The official who pleaded anonymity because he does not have authority to speak, disclosed that NIMASA just finished signing the review of the Committe which was set up to update the MLC 2006.
According to him “There are three amendments that have already been done on this convention, we incorporated it and it is going by way of regulation to the Honorable Minister of Transportation”
“There is no delay in domestication, for the English speaking countries, the process of domestication means that we go through the National Assembly. The MLC 2006 has provided more than one route by which you can implement it, they know that many countries would have challenge of that long process and procedures before domestication”
“Most of the provisions in MLC 2006 are inside our local laws, it is inside the Merchant Shipping Act, it is inside NIMASA Act, it is inside the Labour Law, and so on.
“Domestication is good, but taking into consideration the expected delay in domestication, the convention provides in article 6, paragraph 3, that “A member that is not in position to implement the rights and principles in the manner set out in part A of the code may, unless expressly provided otherwise implement the mandatory through provision in its laws and regulations or other measures which are substantially equivalent to the provision or convention.
“In order not to cause delay in implementation, it provides a leeway, this means that in the declaration given to shipping companies to meet up with, we give them our laws that meet the same objectives
“If you want to see it in practice, there is the Declaration of Maritime Labour Compliance Part 1, this is what we draw out for shipowners to fulfill and comply with, in this part 1, we made reference to our laws, the Merchant Shipping Act are our local laws and they met the same objectives” he said
The NIMASA Official said the agency is not resting on its oars as far as seafarers welfare is concerned, and that it was recently commended by ILO for being one of the countries that is proactive in reporting, technically and in implementing provisions of the MLC 2006 Convention.
According to him, so many countries in the sub-region have been coming to Nigeria to understudy NIMASA, one of them is Gambia Maritime Administration, urging NIMASA to come over and help them in their maritime labour.
Continuing, he said “It is not for us to make noise at every time we take a step, we have finished the Regulation and we are implementing.
“It is not every single thing that you pass through the National Assembly, they have given the power, by reference, under Merchant Shipping Act to the Honorable Minister of Transportation, such that any new regulations that comes, make a reference to it and implement.
“The Minister has that power which the National Assembly has given to him, because most of the provisions of the MLC 2006 are in our Merchant Shipping Act and our local laws, it is like going back to bother the National Assembly again. All he has to do is make a reference to the National Assembly and it is approved.
“All our regulations on the STCW and amendment that has been coming, this is what we do, the foundation has been made, all we do is bring it to their notice” he said
Speaking with DAILY TREND NEWS on the delays in implementation and domestication of the MLC 2006, doyen of Nigerian maritime industry, Otunba Kunle Folarin said Nigerian seafarers are suffering a lot as a result of lack of domestication of the MLC 2006.
Otunba Folarin, Chairman of Nigerian Ports Consultative Council (NPCC) who also doubles as Chairman of Nigerian Seafarers Welfare Board was one of the delegates who went to Geneva, Switzerland to sign the MLC 2006 for Nigeria.
He said there is a need to pressurise the National Assembly to prioritise the memo coming from the Ministry of Transportation in order to domesticate the law.
According to him, until NLAC meets and agrees, the memo on domestication of a labour convention cannot go to the National Assembly.
He however confirmed that the NLAC has held its meeting this year, and the issue of MLC 2006 and seafarers welfare was discussed.
Speaking, he said “The MLC 2006 was ratified by President Goodluck Jonathan since 2013, up till now, the National Assembly have not domesticated it, and if you don’t domesticated it, it means it is not in your law books yet.
The shipowners will want to take advantage of this.
“NIMASA cannot do much without Ministry of Transportation, but our own lobby is to go through the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Productivity, it is a Labour issue and they are always claiming to be in charge.
“If we have such a document ratified by the Federal government on labour issue, it goes to the National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC) which is a board of commissioners, we have never had another one in past six years until we started shouting this year, naturally everyone is hiding under the Covid-19.
“They have held one this year, and this issue of MLC 2006 and seafarers welfare was discussed. Don’t forget that it is not only seafarers matters that was discussed, there are so many issues of Labour that are hanging, until the Advisory board meets and agree, the memo cannot go to the National Assembly.
“But then, what about the memos that have been submitted the National Assembly? What have they done? Nigeria is losing a lot.
“The National Assembly must prioritise it, but most times they fail to do so because there is no money for them, they would not say it out, but the way they would treat you would show.
“Ordinarily, the first and second reading, they pass it to a committee, when the committee reports, they give it to the President to accent to it.
“It takes as little as two weeks to finish that whole process, and yet Nigeria is losing, all the subsidy we would have been getting to support the seafarers, we cannot claim it, because the shipowners claim that it is not yet a law in our country” he said.