Dockworkers shut down ports

LAGOS – Dockworkers under the aegis of Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) yesterday commenced an indefinite strike over alleged poor wages.

The union had, two weeks ago, given a 14-day ultimatum to their employers, the terminal operators, to review upward their wages. The ultimatum expired on Monday

In the notice of ultimatum, the union threatened to shut the ports, saying its members had been going through hardship over non-review of their conditions of service.

The atmosphere in all the ports in Lagos was tense with anti-riot policemen and dog handlers positioned at the entry and exit points.

The striking workers were adamant and stood by the gates.

Mr. Ibrahim Ohize, Chairman of Apapa District 1 Chapter of the dockworkers union, told newsmen that the strike was total.

He said that the strike had affected other ports across the country except Onne port in Rivers state where the terminal operators had reviewed the wages of dockworkers.

Ohize said that their conditions of service had been due for review since May 2010 but nothing had been done.

He alleged that the dockworkers were working as “slaves’’ under a casual system called the “manning scale”.

The union leader said all he earned in the month of February was just N19,600.

“We do not know how much the concession contracts between the Federal Government and the terminal operators were worth, but we want improvement in wages,’’ he said.

Ohize said that no other activity would take place in the ports except the jobs done last night.

“We are neither loading nor off-loading, so ultimately, port activities are paralysed,’’ he said.

Mr. Bolaji Akinola, Spokesman of Seaports Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN), said that the dockworkers should bear with the terminal operators.

He expressed optimism that government would soon respond to a request by STOAN that terminal charges be reviewed up.

He said that the operators were not realising enough money to increase wages of dockworkers.
The affected ports include the Apapa port, the Tin-Can Island port, Calabar port, Port Harcourt port and the Warri port.

Nigerian ports were concessioned by Federal Government to 26 terminal operators in 2006 to promote effective handling of cargo and reduce delays in cargo clearance.

The exercise automatically relieved the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) of its roles in port operations.

With the strike, importers are bound to be confronted with the harrowing experience of having to pay huge demurrage as many goods would be trapped.

The Federal Government may be losing revenue close to N1.5 billion daily to the strike going by 2010 revenue figures generated by Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) at the ports.

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