By Anthony Nwachukwu
The much anticipated commencement of business activities at the Lekki Deep Seaport may face crisis sooner, except the operators and the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN), backed by the International Transport Federation (ITF), timely resolve their stand-off over workers’ unionisation at the facility.
Both the ITF and MWUN, which claimed that no less than 60 per cent of dockworkers drawn from the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and shipping lines arm of the umbrella body are already engaged by the port, have stated readiness for war if the operators insist on not allowing unionism at the facility when it begins operation.
Citing the provisions of the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA), the Lekki Port Environmental Manager, Adura Ogundele, had told the visiting MWUN leadership and ITF representatives that there would be no room for workers’ union or its privileges.
“By the NEPZA Act, there is nothing like unionisation for the free zones as I speak,” he said. “I have spent 10 years here and have never heard of union, so I don’t know how this will be worked out because it is a federal act, but for now there is nothing like unionisation of workers.
“A free zone is like a country within a country, everything that is coming in has a lot of tax incentives, but the moment they are produced and being sent out, they pay accrued taxes.”
Rejecting the position as out of point, MWUN President-General, Comrade Adewale Adeyanju, said that free trade zone does not count where workers’ unionisation is concerned. Noting that many government agencies will be operating at the port with Nigerian employees, he said that the body has inherent powers to unionise.
“It is good that you have opened up what you have in mind against unionising our members in this place when operations start. I think it is better for me to prepare for war against those who don’t want the workers to be unionised,” Adeyanju said.
According to him, “the Lekki Port is going to create employment for workers in Nigeria, and the expectation is that there is going to be a lot of competition between the old port and the new port. In the labour union, our expectations are very high.”
In same vein, the coordinator of ITF Dockers Section, Enrico Totorlano, insisted that Lekki Port must protect workers’ rights through unionisation, stating: “The Lekki Deep Seaport definitely needs to be fully unionised for the workers there.
“For safety as key issue, there is need to ensure that workers get voice in the planning of the port, because multi-agency actors are there, the truck drivers coming in and all sort of employers entering into the port, and it is very dangerous.
“Ports are complex places and the only way to make them truly safe is to speak and give a voice to the people who actually work there and see things every day.
“What is clear to the ITF is that every port must be unionised; the dockworkers must have a union representing them and the union has the backing of ITF on this.”