Tension At Port Harcourt Port As Shipping Agents Accuse Dockworkers of Arm-Twisting, Killing Eastern Ports Patronage

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By DAPO OLAWUNI

The Shipping Trade Practitioners Association of Nigeria (STPAON) has alleged that dockworkers under the aegis of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) were the real reasons why importers have abandoned Eastern ports, this is due to their incessant demands and alleged arm-twisting of importers and shipping agents.

The labour union executives at Port Harcourt Port were also alleged to be operating unchecked, in brigandage form, and financial ambushment of port stakeholders.

This is coming on the heels of recent tension at the Port Harcourt Port, where the union has reportedly threatened to embark on a strike action over alleged refusal of terminal operators; PTOL, and BUA Terminal to engage MWUN members as Tally Clerks and Onboard Security men.

In a chat with DAILY TREND on Monday, Dr Babalola James, Acting Public Relations Officer of STPAON stated that MWUN has threatened to cripple commercial activities at the Port Harcourt Port from Today, Tuesday 20th September, due to the refusal of the two terminal operators to yield to it’s demands.

Dr Babalola however faulted the demands of the union, arguing that the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) had paid-off onboard security and tally Clarks and also discontinued the contract henceforth.

The association has called on the Minister of Transportation, Eng Muazu Jaji Sambo to step into the situation and protect the interest of Nigerian economy.

DAILY TREND reports that two weeks ago, MWUN had challenged the authority of the NPA to suspend the payment of Tally Clerks and Onboard Security men, arguing that they are not registered with her, but to NIMASA.

In a letter distributed to shipping companies and terminals dated 22nd of August 2022 and signed by Secretary General of MWUN, Comrade Felix Akingboye, the union argued that Section 27 (1) of NIMASA Act 2007 provides that all dockworkers shail be certified and registered by NIMASA.

The letter reads in part “By virtue of this provision therefore, it becomes illegal/unlawful for any Terminal Operator or Shipping Agent to engage the services of any UNREGISTERED onboardship Security Men.
“The Act in 27 (4) even stipulates a fine of One Million (N1,000,000.00) for any employer of labour who engages Dockworkers NOT registered and certified By the Agency i.e NIMASA,
Similarly, section 27 (3) of the Act also imposes a fine of Fifty thousand (N50,000.00) Naira on any person who is NOT a Dockworker engages in the formance of Dock work in any Port, Terminal offshore Platforms or terminals in Nigeria”

“While we note with dissatisfaction that the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) has continued & refuse to process payment of wages of Onboard ship Security men based on Cargo dues remitted by the Shipping Agents, we wish to reiterate once more that, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) lacks the power to stop the employment of registered Onboard ship Security men”

Meanwhile, the STPAON Spokesman told our correspondent that the Dock labour commenced enforcement of the content of it’s letter on Saturday 17/09/22.

“Our association called NPA, NIMASA, Shippers Council and also called the Minister of Transportation. The agencies later reached out to the labour union HQ and the action of stopping discharge operations over the weekend was lifted”
“But yesterday being Monday afternoon, I received a call from PTOL that executives of labour union in Port Harcourt called the 2 terminals; PTOL and BUA for a meeting where the labour issued the threat of strike action if their demand for engagement of onboard security and pool tally is not implemented.

“Port users and agents are all worried about this because it is a challenge to ease of doing business and patronage of the Eastern ports.

“Dockworkers seems to be operating unchecked in brigandage form and financial ambushment where they want to box importers, shipping agents and the terminals to considering giving financial inducement to labour or perhaps forcefully engage onboard ship security and tally clerks.

“It will surprise you to note that executives of labour in Port Harcourt port were part of the reasons for low patronage of Port Harcourt port because of too much demands and arm-twisting of importers and shipping agents.

“An example is seen on general cargo which does not require any discrepancies and gang booking of labour to work during discharge operations, but the labour excos who played no role in the process will come and demand for payment from the importer and ship’s agent for what they did not do. They call it PR.

“Even the cargo that required them to standby gang for the discrepancy job; they will book and collect payment and no labour will show up for the job especially on refeer vessels, bulk wheat, salt, sugar among others.

“The labour union need to be checkmated and their excesses be cut down to allow the efforts of the Minister of Transportation and his numerous establishments yield desired fruit and dividend to port users, the general public and Nigerian economy at large” he stated
When he was contacted by DAILY TREND, President of Dockworkers Branch of MWUN, Comrade Tajudeen Ohize confirmed that the union issued a threat to the terminal operators over their refusal to engage tally Clarks and onboard security.

“I was told that they have complied fully with what we wanted from them. The terminals in Lagos have equally complied. It is a nationwide demand, and not just a Port Harcourt issue.
We started it from Lagos since last two weeks”

“While we went on strike before now was the IOC, on the issue of the Tally Clerks and Onboard Security, we have not gone on any strike action before now.

The MWUN top man said that the former contract with NPA was politically terminated, arguing that tally Clarks, the job of the dockworkers cannot be complete.

“This is why most of the Cargoes coming into the ports are no longer checked properly, and they are always mentioning our names” he said

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