Vicky Haastrup, the chairman of the Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN), said concessionaires at the nation’s seaports have been able to increase the salaries and wages of dockworkers by more than 2,000 per cent over the past 17 years.
Hasstrup said this on Thursday while speaking as chairman of the maiden Dockworkers Day celebration organised by the Shipping Correspondents Association of Nigeria (SCAN) in Lagos on Thursday. The theme of the event is “Dockworkers: The Unsung Heroes of Nigerian Port Reforms”.
“You all are witnesses to the situation at the ports and the poor working conditions of dockworkers before the 2006 port concession exercise. Before the concession, dockworkers were poorly paid. They did not have conditions of service. Indeed, they did not have identifiable employers. Their safety, in the course of performing their duties, was not taken to heart. They were exploited, dehumanised and underpaid.
“But all of that has changed, thanks to the bold move of the Federal Government to reform and concession the ports in 2006. As you all know, the port concession transferred cargo-handling operations from NPA to professional private terminal operators, who won lease agreements ranging from 15 to 25 years. NPA remained the landlord, technical regulator and provider of marine services.
“Seventeen years into the port concession exercise, there is a general consensus that the exercise has fully delivered on its promises. The landlord model of port concession adopted by the Federal Government has freed the government of the financial burden required to develop and operate the terminals. This burden has been transferred to the private terminal operators also known as concessionaires.
“In addition to not spending money to acquire cargo handling equipment and other associated terminal operating costs, the Federal Government now realises much more revenue from the ports.
“In addition to modernising the port, we have collectively worked together to give a new lease of life to our dockworkers. Every other year, members of STOAN and the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria under the supervision of NIMASA sign new Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBA) midwifed by the National Joint Industrial Council (NJIC) to further enhance the welfare of dockworkers in the country,” the STOAN Chairman said.
She said the CBA ensures fair treatment of dockworkers, payment of living wages and institutionalisation of retirement benefits to them.
“In essence, unlike what was obtained before port concession, our dockworkers now have conditions of service. Today, the average take-home pay of a dockworker has increased by more than 2,000 per cent over what it was in 2006. The Collective Bargaining Agreement between the Union and Terminal Operators has also ensured industrial harmony at the port.
“We recognise the importance of our dockworkers. They are professionals and essential workers. They are vital and crucial to port operation. Indeed, without dockworkers, we cannot talk of effective port operation. The story of the success of port concession cannot be written without copious mention of the role of dockworkers,” Haastrup said.
Also speaking, Adewale Adeyanju, the president-general of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN), congratulated SCAN for putting together the eventful programme to celebrate dockworkers.
“I want to congratulate SCAN for putting together this eventful programme to celebrate our own: the veterans and our unsung heroes still on duty,” Adeyanju said.
Adeyanju said the era of hooliganism and thuggery in the union has since given way to a new mindset, which has worked in favour of dockworkers.
He said Nigerian dockworkers are no longer backbenchers or troublemakers at the port but have rather become essential port workers and critical stakeholders.
He expressed hope that a new Collective Bargaining Agreement will be signed by the union and terminal operators to further enhance the welfare of dockworkers.
Speaking earlier, Eugene Agha, SCAN President, said the Dockworkers Day was organised by the association to celebrate the contributions of dockworkers to the economic advancement of Nigeria.
The high point of the event was the presentation of awards to select individuals and organisations that have contributed to the welfare of dockworkers.
They include Haastrup; Adeyanju; Pioneer President of the defunct Dockworkers Union of Nigeria, Joshua Ogunleye; the Executive Secretary of Nigerian Shippers’ Council, Emmanuel Jime; former President of MWUN, Anthony Nted and Nigeria’s largest container terminal, APM Terminals Apapa.