One thousand workers of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) were retired on Wednesday, just as the workers were demanding the resolution of some nagging issues by the ports authorities, top of which is severance package for exiting workers.
At a joint press briefing in Lagos yesterday, the workers, under the aegis of the Maritime Workers\' Union of Nigeria (MWUN) and the NPA Senior Staff Association (SSA)- the two house unions- threatened to ground operations at the sea ports through a total strike if at the expiration of a 14-day ultimatum nothing is done to redress their grievances.
Speaking for the workers, Peter O. Abolarin, president of the NPA Senior Staff Association, who lamented that the workers had been taken for a ride for too long said \"enough is enough\".
Abolarin, who addressed the media along with his MWUN counterpart, Onikolaese Irabor, highlighted the various flaws in the reform exercise which the government, the management of NPA and the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) had refused to correct.
In his words, \"Events in the last few weeks have shown intolerable flaws in the implementation procedure of the port reform exercise.
\"Due process has been completely and recklessly jettisoned. This is evident in the handing over of the concessioned areas and terminal to the successful bidders with exaggerated fanfare, and the acceleration of the legal framework and the resolution of labour issues.\"
On the legal framework, the labour leader said: \"The Port Act of 1955 as amended in 1999 is still in force and no Act of the National Assembly has repealed or amended it. There is therefore no legal basis for the steps thus being taken outside the tenets of the existing Port Act in the implementation of the port concessioning\".
He accused the management of the NPA of implementing the provisions of the Draft Bill on Port Reform through a subtle restructuring of the ports into two planned autonomous outfits.
\"Worse still, the management of Nigerian Ports Authority and their principals have also started the implementation of the provisions of the Draft Bill on Port Reform by subtle restructuring of the ports to two ports with yet to be ratified names - Lagos Ports and Harbour Authority, and Niger Delta Ports and Harbour Authority and the subsequent posting of two executive directors to man the respective ports,\" Abolarin added.
Seeing the action of the government and the BPE as an assault and affront to the rule of law and serious aberration in democratic governance, the workers also saw the proposed port authorities as capable of provoking serious threat to the continued peaceful co-existence of Nigerians.
Lending his voice to the issue, the President-General of the Maritime Workers\' Union of Nigeria, Onikolaese Irabor, said the issue of severance/disengagement packages of NPA permanent employees and dockworkers was specified as one of the key issues to be resolved before the actual implementation of the port concession exercise.
He therefore asserted that without it being resolved, the programme would not continue. \"If this is not done, we are going to declare operation zig-zag\", he stated.
The workers therefore stated that, \"In view of the manifest reckless abuse of procedure, the two house unions have issued 14 days ultimatum to the Federal Ministry of Transport, management of Nigerian Ports Authority and the Bureau of Public Enterprises to correct these lapses, and we shall not be held liable for the consequences that may arise from their failure to resolve the protracted issues within the time frame of the ultimatum\".
Meanwhile, the NPA management yesterday explained the rationale behind the sacking of the affected workers, saying it was for those who had \"joined the organization from 31st of March 1975, and clocked 30 years in service on 31st of March 2005\".
In a statement signed by the assistant general manager (AGM) Public Affairs, Christopher Borha, it added that all the retirees were qualified pensioners of the NPA, who would be paid their gratuity and guaranteed five years pension in full.
According to him, they would be paid three months salary in lieu of notice, along with other benefits due to them.
Borha, however, debunked the workersÃƒÆ’Ã†â€™Ãƒâ€ Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¢ÃƒÆ’Ã†â€™Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¢ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€¦Ã‚Â¡ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¬ÃƒÆ’Ã†â€™Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¢ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€¦Ã‚Â¾ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¢ claim that the recent restructuring that saw some executive directors being posted to the zones was a subtle way of implementing the Draft Bill on Port Reforms.
He said that the arrangement was to decentralize power and to make the operational areas more efficient, adding that the headquarters was not known for port operations, hence powers must not be concentrated there.
The AGM commended the workers for their understanding and cooperation thus far but regretted that the slow pace of the implementation of the exercise, especially their welfare package created the impression that labour was being taken for granted.