Home Interview “NUAAE An Agro Allied Union Cannot Interprete Operational Activities Of The Maritime...

“NUAAE An Agro Allied Union Cannot Interprete Operational Activities Of The Maritime Industry ”-Capt Kemewerigha

Captain Thomas Kemewerigha is a renowned marine expert and former National President, Nigeria Merchant Navy Officers and Water Transport Senior Staff Association.

In this interview with journalists in Lagos recently, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) consultant talked about the challenges faced by players in the fishing sub sector of the maritime industry and the over regulations by government agencies.

Kemewerigha also spoke on poor renumeration of seafarers’ onboard trawlers and how the vessel owners can improve on workers welfare.

Excerpts

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We are investigating alleged anti labour practice in the fishing sub sector of the maritime industry with particular reference to Atlantic Shrimpers Limited where even the state and branch Chairmen of the union want to seek permission from management before speaking with the media, whereas workers are crying on how their welfare can be improved upon because it appears to be slave labour kind of employment. As a foremost labour leader in the industry what is your take on it?

I am highly disappointed in such union executive in a fishing company that cannot talk for it’s members.

If the union cannot oblige press interview because its against management policy , then there is a problem because this is a clear indication of having the wrong union in the right place.

The union you meet is Nigeria Union of Agricultural and Allied Employees (NUAAE) , an agro allied union cannot interprete operational activities of the maritime industry. They don’t have knowledge about the happenings of the core maritime sector. They are supposed to be in the plantation farms, fish farms and export zones across the country.

As that may be, it also reflects on the todays labour struggles. Even the apex bodies like TUC and NLC have carried out several strides yet no result has been achieved on workers welfare.

Now back to the fishing sector. Unfortunately, you went to the best fishing company in the industry today; Atlantic Shrimpers for years and from inception has been one of the company that complies with employment regulations; in terms of issuing appointment letters to workers ; in terms of pensions ; in terms of gratuity and in terms of medical. It’s on record and am saying this because I know. Casualisation is not in Atlantic Shrimpers yet the take home might be small but all government regulations are in full compliance.

Sir, when you say there is no casualisation in that company ,what about a department called maintenance unit , whereby workers are kept in a pool for over two or more years under the guise of training without payment all through until they are selected by the captain?

I have worked with several fishing companies in the country and I may not really know what is obtainable at this time due to government policies that did not favour them and most of them folded up; like Stallion Fisheries , West Coast Fisheries and others because we have over twenty fishing companies before now but they folded up .

The area you talking about today is very strange to me but I also know that in the fishing industry that we find ourselves it has to do with the core area of specialisation to the operations.

The area of specialisation in fishing is quite different from what is obtainable in coastal tankers, offshore vessels and any other sailing operations worldwide. I can’t come from somewhere and join the fishing sector like a clerk in administrative jobs or social science jobs that one can easily learn on the job.

The fishing sector is a specialised area whereby fresh employee must learn ashore . The training comes internally to understand the technology and knowledge involved . For example slicing of wires,positioning of nets and many more before they post you .

it is not out of place to train you but the issue of non payment of salary for those set of workers is what I don’t know about . I haven’t confirmed that and can’t guarantee such. I will also want to verify that but the system itself is very correct because the operation is not what you go and try rather you must be on the job to do the job.

They don’t learn this kind of job at ashore and if they have such pool in place then I see it as a better way of getting the right hands to do the job at sea but if in the process they are not paying the workers based on internship then its unfair and I will also advise the Fishing Zonal Council of the Nigeria Merchant Navy Officers and Water Transport Senior Staff Association (NMNOWTSSA) to investigate, verify the facts and engage management on the best way out of it.

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With the issue of non payment of such type of workers under this department can you tell us the implications against the backdrop of labour laws?

I tend to wonder on this because the bottom line is that they are grooming armed robbers. You employ somebody and don’t pay him in return, at the end of the month, no take home then there is a problem; how do you want him to meet his responsibilities or obligations?

The current trend also in Atlantic Shrimpers from our finding is that there workers are placed on double shift with allowances ,what is your view on that ?

There are some of the fishing operations you don’t really know about . Now fishing activities in Nigeria far back in the 1980s because these vessels are designed to fish night and day due to the fact that they are going out to search for the unknown.

Unlike cargo vessels that are assigned to lift consignments from port A to port B where the goods are already on ground but in the fishing you are going to search for the unknown because you don’t know where the products are located. Working day and night is not the problem .

For instance your sailing permit is involved, your approval for bunkers determines your duration at sea, the cost of the bunkers, feeding , payment of certifications , salaries and many more

Because there is no subsidy from government , it makes the owners of these companies to go the extra mile to meet the operational cost of the company ,not even profit.

so working day and night is not the problem and that is why you must be a professional to withstand it. It is the design structures of the Nigerian content but there is also need to stop fishing at sea; they might have engine problem, you might be sailing to a fishing ground and changing of fishing ground also requires that the sailors should be resting during these period.

The union tried under my tenure but since I left I don’t know . We also saw that the fishing days have increased because when we started we were sailing fifteen days but the waters was very rich, what we were looking for was everywhere, you go you get it . So twelve to fifteen days we get what we wanted at sea and come back ashore.

Continuous harvesting of the same ground by the vessels whether they increase or decrease in size give the extension because what you are supposed to get for fifteen days now goes for thirty days due to constant fishing on the fishing ground. Going back empty ashore is not an option because you must get a measurable and reasonable catch to off set operational and salary cost.

Constant harvesting of the fishes led to the increase in days at sea which has led to minimum of fifty days. Even then the cost of preparing the vessel to go to sea is very high talk less now. To get the required amount of diesel alone for the vessel cost a fortune, the filters, oil,nets, you buy your gears, maintenance of the vessels pay salaries, maintenance of your compressor systems is too high.

Today, the money involved in preparing the vessel to sea is very very high; so you just have to go for a lengthy period to meet up with those operational cost. So we did advice before that Nigeria has a very long coast in the region. Example, from Badagry to Escravos nobody should fish within a space of four months and from Escravos to Bonny Island you can fish within these period; from Bonny to Calabar you can take it for a particular period. What am trying to say is that we ration the areas so that by the time you leave one zone for another even for breeding and eventually com back after a while you get the products in abundance.

Everybody was busy harvesting on a daily basis, monthly and annual basis so that led to the increase number of days at sea to augment their operational cost .

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Now the non compliance to STCW has not been enforced by the regulatory authorities in the fishing sub sector of Nigeria, what is your take on this?

It is unfortunate because that is the structure of Nigeria today. The fishing sector is a woman with two husband or three instead of a man to have three or more wives , the woman is now married to two or more husband’s at the same time.

The fishing sub sector is responsible to Ministry of Transportation,through NIMASA for vessels certification, they are responsible for fisheries , Ministry of Agriculture through the department of fisheries, for registration and certifications for gears , operations and fishing license. While operations go to Fisheries technicalities go to NIMASA. Now which of them is there to encourage , monitor and support the operators? No one! . They are all after what they will get from the operators.

Is it proper to say they are poorly regulated?

I won’t say that because if you say they are poorly regulated that we are seeking for more regulators to come onboard and milk them dry by spending more money.

Therefore I will say the fishing sector is over-regulated by the government.The operators are doing the right thing because you cannot fish on our territorial waters without a fishing license, you cannot use non recommended fishing gears that are properly checked by the regulators.

NIMASA ensures that your vessel is seaworthy and to make sure that certificates and registration are intact . But what we are saying from my own point of view is that they should encourage the sub sector with incentives with what is obtainable in agricultural sector. What others are getting in form of grants they are not getting for instance subsidy on fertilizer.

So that there will food security for the country and exportation of our produce to earn foreign exchange as well. But this sub sector is a high foreign exchange earner for the country as well because some of the products are exported.

Recently, the government granted waivers for airlines to bring in spare parts; this sector doesn’t have waivers to bring in parts for their vessels. You cannot manufacture ordinary speedboat and the operators borrow monies from banks and bring in trawlers to enrich our protein consumption, customs will come in and they pay heavily on import duty to clear the boats.

My point is that they are not getting anything in return from the government in form of incentives as an agricultural booster , as an employment generation sub sector outfit, as a foreign exchange earner; rather the government is sucking them dry with policies that surrounds payment of monies .

 

Captain Thomas Kemewerigha

Who do you cry to? Is it Ministry of Agriculture or Transportation? Two husband and one wife. And that is the problem they are facing. We are supposed to have fisheries as a ministry in this country.

That is what is obtainable in Seychelles because you know who to deal with directly to solve your problems. NIMASA is just all about safety and welfare related that is labour; Agric is just licensing of the vessel.

Now let’s come back to the STCW we asked earlier?

The STCW F came into existence before the main STCW that graduated to Manila Convention as amended ; then it was under JOMALIC. JOMALIC pursued it into a logical conclusion before the merger with NMA . But JOMALIC could not benefit from the adoption , ratification before NIMASA came into the picture.

Because of the attitude of some other countries they streamlined it and brought it back to content thus encourage members to ratify and domesticate and came up with Convention 188, revised version Convention 198 and up till today Nigeria has not ractify it.

We don’t have any institution like JoeMarine and Charkins that run mandatories for fishers. Why must it even run when you don’t domesticate or practice? We have not done all these and that is a problem.

So what do you think is delaying us from domestication or ratification?

I don’t know for the government because we are known and good in travelling around the world for tourism. Anywhere in the globe where there is a conference Nigeria is known as the country with the highest delegates and that doesn’t portend seriousness on our part.

We are interested in what we will get as individuals. Our main aim of going to such conference is also defeated . For over fifteen years we are yet to domesticate this convention despite the fact that we are in attendance in all of them.

Even if we ratify and domesticate , we still don’t have structures on ground. IMO in her wisdom designed STCW F because the safety measures are different from offshore and coastal tankers operations.

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So if today everybody is using the basic mandatory working onboard the fishing vessel then it is not acceptable but that person is only applying it for safety reasons and the best possible way to protect himself but ideally, that certificate is not acceptable on fishing vessels

How about the NJIC as regards the condition of service for seafarers’ under trawler operations. Is the case quite different from what is obtainable in the maritime industry?

During my leadership of the union was when we introduced National Industrial Joint Council (NJIC) was based on harmonising the welfare packages for coastal tankers , offshore vessels, and fishing boats.

Ours was to start the process believing that subsequently, it will be resolved via a logical conclusion.

 

The structure of the council boils down to tripartite agreement. NIMASA as a government agency is an umpire while the trawler owners will discuss with the Fishing Zonal Council of the union NMNOWTSSA to discuss on welfare packages for the workforce of the sector.

If you go to the offshore sub sector, the zone of the union will with the operators discuss the best way to go about workers welfare. When it comes to coastal tankers, the shipping zonal sector of the union will swing into action and the MWUN are also involved in the context.

During the discussion we said every two years it will be reviewed . So in essence of you are earning#10 for instance and in ten years time you know the new salary structure .

So when NIMASA instituted the NJIC is was on a good ground but I will tell you that in the last review they did ship owners and offshore owners did not adopt theirs but to the best of my knowledge,the trawlers owners adopted theirs.

Governors of some states came out opening to say they cannot pay the minimum wage because they don’t have the resources to do so because their funds are squarely based on what they get from federal government and others

This year April, we fought Banarly to a standstill due to casualisation and so we sent signal to the remaining three companies on that stretch .

There is a process going on the sector now and we are in dialogue with them to stop this casualisation of workers, salaries and other issues because its an act of enforcement on what the government agencies should have done for the workers.

NUAEE is in charge of ratings as a union from the agricultural sector instead MWUN can explain why is like that?

 

We were in court for eight years to challenge the status quo but MWUN did not. We won our case to be the bonifade union for trawler section. MWUN did not take part in the matter but NUAEE had there way. Ideally, MWUN supposed to be there instead of NUAEE because the structure of the labour movement is that we the senior staff are under TUC while MWUN is NLC.

 

Captain Thomas Kemewerigha

Onboard a vessel we have four Senior officers and six ratings . While the Senior officers belong to us the six ratings belong to NUAEE. The fact still remains that NUAEE doesn’t know anything concerning water and that is why they are handicap.

They don’t understand the maritime operations .NUAEE is poaching and I believe with our judgement on the status quo MWUN can come up with a precedent . NUAEE is just there ,they cannot fight on behalf of ratings .

Is it possible for a rating to become a member of NMNOWTSSA?

Ordinarily, anybody that sail onboard a ship is a merchant navy . Ratings are Merchant Navy personnel but they are not officers. Before this time we have a directorate here to bring ratings and officers together in order to achieve and share common goals.

They are all merchant personnel not royal naval personnel. Their job description is at sea working on board and everybody working on board is a merchant navy personnel.