Congestion looms as Nigeria’s seaports remain shut over labour strike
BY FRANCIS EZEM
Massive cargo congestion may be imminent at most of Nigeria’s seaports following the decision of the three major organised labour unions to embark on a one-week warning strike since Thursday over the inability of the Federal and State Governments to implement a new minimum wage of N65,000 as against the former N18,000 being implemented nearly 10 years ago.
The three major unions comprising the Nigeria Labour Congress NLC, Trade Union Congress TUC, and the United Labour Congress ULC had penultimate week given the Federal Government 14-day ultimatum to conclude all discussions and consultations with relevant stakeholders and come up with an acceptable living wage for the Nigerian workers or risk an unprecedented industrial action, which elapsed midnight Wednesday.
Investigations revealed that at the close of work on Friday, the nation’s seaports, especially the Lagos Ports Complex and Tin Can Island Ports Complex both in Apapa, which are the two biggest cargo seaports, accounting for over 85 per cent of all container traffic as well as wet and dry bulk cargo have remained under lock and key for two consecutive days.
This is sequel to a directive by the Senior Staff Association SSA of the Nigerian Ports Authority and the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria MWUN to port workers to stay away from the port locations in order to ensure 100 per cent compliance with the directive on the strike by the three parent bodies.
It was further gathered that the Berthing Committee Meeting, which holds daily, Monday-Friday to allocate berths to vessels arriving the nation’s waters also failed to meet for the two days the strike has lasted, which makes it very difficult for vessels to berth at any of the seaports.
A source at the Nigeria Customs Service also disclosed that officers and men at the various commands of the service, especially those in Lagos were prevented from accessing their offices, as the Customs Processing Centres CPCs of the various commands, have been under lock and key, thus making it impossible to process documents for cargo release.
The source said: “Even if any officer sneaks into the ports, the agents would not be available to present their documents because the banks are not open for fear of being attacks by the monitoring teams of the labour unions. The situation is made even more difficult by the fact that no truck owner or fleet manager would release his truck to lift cargo at the ports because they may be vandalised with the possibility of risking the safety of the driver and the cargo itself.”
On the possible effects of the strike action on port operation, he observed that there would likely be a backlog, which might take some time to clear, which more often than not leads to congestion, having already lost two working days and still counting.
Speaking on the effect of the shutdown on revenue collection, he noted that it might not have much effect, insisting that whenever the service resumes cargo inspection and release, all accruable revenue would be collected, arguing that the only likely consequence is that the commands would record zero revenue on the strike days, which would be collected eventually.
He however pointed out that another major victim of the strike action would be importers and exporters whose cargo might have to stay longer than necessary before clearance or shipment with the attendant incidences of higher rent and demurrage charges, which would be passed down to the final consumers of the goods in the case of the importers.
Another major beneficiary of the exercise, it was further gathered are the terminal operators and shipping companies, who would have to charge more demurrage and rent charges on the imported goods, which might not augur well for the country, as the nation’s seaports become more uncompetitive and therefore less attractive.
Recall that the decision of the labour leaders, who are also members of the tripartite National Minimum Wage Committee to adopt the strike option was in response to a statement credited to the Minister of Labour and acting chairman of the committee, Dr. Chris Ngige that the committee should adjourn its sittings indefinitely to enable him hold consultations with relevant agencies of the Federal Government, which the labour unions viewed as ploy to truncate the process, which started over two years ago.
Presidents of the NLC, Ayubba Wabba, TUC, Bobboi Kaigama, and the ULC, Joe Ajaero, had while addressing a joint press briefing in Lagos, penultimate Wednesday, said that the members of the organised labour who are also members of the Minimum Wage Committee, which is charged with working out a new national minimum wage alongside other social partners and stake holders, are not comfortable with the recent statement of the minister, which indicates that he might be acting a script.
According to the unions, the pronouncement of the minister became even more worrisome, coming at a time the committee was finalising its work of arriving at a definite figure for submission to government, warning that if this demand was not met at the end of the 14 days, the unions would not guarantee continued industrial peace and harmony in the country.
“The unions said: We view his latest pronouncement with great concern, suspicion and outrage. This new antic is certainly not acceptable to Nigerian workers who had expected a new national minimum wage since 2016 but whom out of uncommon sacrifice and patriotism hearkened to government’s appeal and the process was delayed.
“You may wish to recollect that the National Minimum Wage Committee was inaugurated in November 2017 but commenced work in March 2018 with timelines to deliver on its mandate of arriving at a new national minimum wage in August/ September 2018. In the course of the work of the committee, members had ample time to consult. In any case the committee was satisfied that it received memoranda and inputs from 21 state governments, specialised agencies of the Federal Government, the Organised Private Sector, organised labour and the general public.
“We even recall that Dr. Ngige himself had assured workers during the 40th anniversary celebration of the Nigeria Labour Congress NLC in February this year that workers should expect a new national minimum wage in September this year. We wonder what has gone amiss between February 28 and now. Or do we assume that the minister is acting a script?”