The 7-day warning strike embarked upon by organised labour on Thursday led to the shutting down of Nigeria’s busiest seaports – the Lagos Port Complex Apapa and the Tin Can Island Port Complex.
The strike action affected marine services, cargo inspection and cargo delivery services at the port.
Officials of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN), which is an affiliate of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) stormed the premises of the ports on Thursday morning to enforce the strike by stopping workers and port users from entering the facilities.
The offices of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigeria Customs Service and the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) were also affected by the industrial action, which was called by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the United Labour Congress (ULC) to press home their demand for review of the national minimum wage.
Speaking to newsmen, President-General, Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN), Comrade Adewale Adeyanju, said in compliance with the directive of the NLC, the maritime workers union directed all port dockworkers to join the strike action.
“As an affiliate of NLC, the strike is still ongoing and we have directed all dock workers in all the nation’s ports to go home until they (NLC) give us further directive on the next line of action. From what I heard, may be they are re-convening this afternoon but we will wait for further directive.
“I do not expect the government to fold its arms and allow the strike to degenerate into crisis because already the country is suffering, talk less of adding injury to the condition of average Nigerians.
“Government should do the needful so that Nigerians can overcome these difficult situations. Even the N18,000 minimum wage, how many states are paying? Some owe 36 months and they are not even ready to pay. The Paris Club refund they gave to some of the states; some used it for political campaign. It is only some that we can talk of that were able to pay. So we pray they conclude it on time,” he said.
National Publicity Secretary, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) Joe Sanni, said agents could not transact business at the port because of the strike.
He said, “Port operation is on total shut down. None of the agencies are working including NPA (Nigerian Ports Authority) except the Customs Processing Centre in Tin Can Island Command but the Customs officers are not in the various terminals. We are affected when they are not working but there is nothing we can do.”
Reacting to the impact of the strike action on port operations, Sanni expressed concern that the port may face another major threat of cargo congestion if the strike is not called off immediately.
“If the strike continues, we cannot rule out port congestion. Taking a drive through the port is totally blocked because the ports are not opened with long line of trucks with some bearing containers, while some are empty. Those that are inside the port have been shut out. The end point of this is massive congestion. Meanwhile, there are some ships that cannot discharge and there are some containers that ought to have been picked but cannot be picked due to strike,” he said.
On cost implication for importers and agents, he said, “The demurrages and the storage charges that will be incurred by importers and transporters will certainly be high by the time you multiply the number of containers that are supposed to have been examined, released or taken delivery. If the terminal operators want to release but because Customs officers are not in the terminal, it means the day is gone.”
Director-General, Lagos Chambers of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Muda Yusuf, who spoke on behalf of the organized private sector called on the Federal Government to yield to the demand of the labour unions, warning that the strike will further compound the already bad situation at the port, in terms of cost of cargo clearance if not addressed immediately.
“We already have issues of congestion, demurrages and cargoes not moving out of the port on time. So the strike will further compound the clearance of cargo and will increase interest cost of importers. May be you borrow money to import something and because of strike you cannot move it out, you will be paying more interest and when cost increase for business, the importer also transfers it to the final consumer. Invariable, it will hit the average man on the street.
“The government should quickly engage them (labour) and agree on some of the terms. They have been on this for a very long time but it is just that sometimes government don’t wake up to some issues until it gets to end of point.”
Yusuf who described the existing minimum wage of N18,000 per month as inhuman.
He said, “The strike is long overdue. How can you be paying a person N18, 000 minimum wage in this day and age for a whole month especially coming from an institution? If it was a Small Medium Scale Enterprise, then may be, but not an institution of government. So it is long overdue, but I believe it is for a good reason if they have been discussing all this while and nothing has happened.”