Maritime History #3: MWUN promoting the decent work agenda in maritime labour
On this edition of Maritime History, the President General of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN), Prince Adewale Adeyanju, talks on the long walk of the Union to success; from the face of many challenges, sustained agitations for improved welfare of its members to new perspectives of how work should be dignifying. The Union’s perspectives are defined within the provisions of the international labour laws that decent work is not merely an objective.
How well has the MWUN performed with regards to members’ welfare?
Over the years, what our founding fathers laid down is what we continued upon.
Before the mergers, we always had central union where individual unions had their own executives; the NPA branch, later the Dockworkers branch, Shipping branch and that of the Seafarers. They were all autonomous and were on their own. But the merger now brought all of us together, which made it to be called the MWUN. Now, the four branches have their own executives, but there is only one President General, who supervises and takes control of the branches. The branches have District Council and they have Unit Councils. This revolves around the four branches of the Union. But today, a lot of transformations have taken place in the Union. Before, the dockworkers branch, which happens to be one of the toughest branches those days, did not have good conditions of service. They were just used as ‘hired-pay’ workers. But, when we came on board the leadership of the Union, we thought it wise to introduce the condition of service, which is the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Today, the dockworkers have entitlement to their retirement benefits; they are entitled to their pension. They are equally entitled to their terminal benefits. So, those are the things that brought transformation into the maritime sector today. Over the years, the workers were used like orphans in the industry. But today, that has changed, because they have gotten what their colleagues in other sub sectors of the industry are getting. So, a lot of transformation has taken place in the MWUN.
How important is the dockworker in the maritime industry?
I think that after the oil and gas industry, you talk of the sea ports. And, the maritime has a great role playing over the years to make sure that we sustain the revenue drive for the country. The maritime workers Union supports the government, we support the employers of labour within the industry. If we are not relevant, there won’t be port operations. Without the port, there won’t be maritime industry. So, our relationship is interwoven. Our role is to ensure that we protect the welfare of our members and that of other stakeholders, because we need to work together; as government is important to the citizen, so is the MWUN important to the port.
What does the ‘welfare’ of the maritime worker involve?
Well, it has to do with their basic salary, transport and any other incentives for improved working conditions. It is not about just giving a salary. If the salary is not commensurate with the kind of work I am doing, automatically that cannot be called welfare. So, all the four branches have the CBA.
We have been shouting about how the Managements of shipping companies have been treating those in shipping. They have the conditions of service, but it is not commensurate to what we are asking for. If someone is going on retirement it is like a ‘death sentence’. That is why we cried out for the world to know what was going on in shipping. Thank God that the Government through the Minister of Transport than had to set up a committee that involved the Union and the Shippers’ Council to midwife the CBA between the Union and the Shipping industry. The Shipping aspect also has manning agents that are managing the Seafarers aspect. Today, they have the National Joint Industrial Council (NJIC); they have conditions of service. So, those are the transformation we are talking about. For the NPA, they are government arm and they are under the salaries and wages commission and their salaries are being reviewed as at when due. But last year, we made noise about the salaries of some of the members in NPA, which we stagnated for about 18 years and the present Management adjusted it and things have been okay.
What about the care given to families of deceased members who dies in active service?
If you don’t do it, somebody else would come and do it better. So, when in position of authority, do your best and leave the rest to God.
Over the years like I said, dockworkers are always at the receiving end where some of them would die in active service and nothing was given to their families. But we have changed that now; if anybody has an accident on a vessel or die in active service, there is a structured welfare package to take care of the needs like burial arrangement as well as payment of compensation, if a person dies during port operations. At the same time, we have the P&I Club, which is the insurance that takes care of all the workers on board the vessels or ashore. So, the era of using them if someone died and there was nothing like compensation, is a thing of the past. This cuts across the four branches; now, they have a standard, in shipping there is a standard and among the seafarers too. So, everything has been put in place for the welfare. If somebody dies now, they must be given what belongs to them. We are not even talking about death alone, but also about career progression for dockworkers, for seafarers. It is certain that you cannot remain a labourer for the rest of your life. So, the Union os pushing for career progression where we can have supervisors, where you can grow from supervisor to a foreman and to a stevedore and to operations manager.
Those are some of the things we are doing now to make sure there is transformation in line with the port operations.
What manner of training have members of the MWUN been involved?
Thank you for this beautiful question. Over time, training is part of our empowerment, encouragement. A worker that is well trained will perform better, but the one who is not trained cannot give anything good.
This appreciation goes to the DG of NIMASA who yearly supports the training of the dockworkers in their skilled areas, whether they are crane operators, tally clerks or gangway men. Anything that has to do with the port operations, I think the dockworkers have been encouraged through training. So, when you train me, there is also need to progress to another stage. I cannot remain a general dockworker. We are trying to introduce professionalism into the port operations from our own services and this is obtainable globally.
Now, the terminal operators who are making use of the workers should also be involved in the training of the dockworkers. It will be the better for them of they train the dockworkers. With that you can sleep with your two eyes closed, because you know that you have added value to them. When they are not trained but just only being used, you don’t expect good things from them. So we implore the terminal operators to and all relevant stakeholders within the maritime sector, they should be training their workers.
Where are the women in this male-dominated space?
We have three women as members of my executives and same can be found in the districts and in the units. At the present, all members of staff of the Union are undergoing some training programmes and there are women among them.
We are gender-balanced and we know that without women there is no world. The Port operations now have about 15-20% women in the operations. Like in APMT now, women are RTG crane operators. They are also found at WACT. Even among the dockworkers, they are women Tally clerks and labour. We also continue training the women who believe in what we are doing.
What about the biometric ID cards NIMASA is issuing to dockworkers?
Yes, I think I will give them like 80 per cent. The ID card that was launched about a year ago is now being done according to port by port. They engaged the terminal operators to ensure they forward the names under them. That has been perfected and those in Lagos have collected their certificates.
What does the future hold for members of the Union with regards to the many reforms for advancement?
Be expecting good things from us as always. Now that the government has already separated us from Transport and given us the Blue Economy, I use the opportunity to congratulate the new minister of this new ministry, because we all know what the ministry will face in terms of bringing in revenue spanning the scope of port operations. We will continue to support policies for the good of the industry. But any anti-policy that is not going to be alright for the workers and the port operation, we will say no.