Com. Julius Efokpor is the Secretary General of the Nigerian Merchant Navy Officers and Water Transport Senior Staff Association. In this week’s edition of your Shippers’ Guide, he educates you on the activities of merchant navy, how Navy is an offshoot of the merchant navy. It also sheds light on who can be a merchant navy officer. Enjoy the piece.
What is merchant navy all about?
Nigeria Merchant Navy Officers and Water Transport Senior Staff Association by establishment in 1978 is a trade union along industrial line before it was structured out of the, existing splinter union and it caters for officials on-board the vessels, right from the officer of the watch in the engine room to the chief engineer on board and some of the officers of watch in the deck to the master on board. That is our area of coverage and it goes beyond that because it covers coastal, harbor and even fishing and vessels but, excluding officers of The Nigerian Port Authority (NPA). We also cover inland water ways, NPA is an organization on its own, it belongs to the Maritimes Workers’ Union.
What is the relevance of your members to the maritime industry?
Our members are relevant to the industry because, without them the fleet cannot move. The captain of the vessel is the one that pilots the vessel to any destination. He has the ship officer who is the man next to him that does most of the documentation. In the engine room, we have the chief engineer who is the man in charge of the engine, if the engine doesn’t start, the vessel will not move. That is to say that logistics provision to the off shore on whatever destination unless the crew members are there.
In other word, the officers on-board a vessel, are the engine room of the vessel. They make the money for the stake holders. We have the ratings who are the junior officers, our members control the junior officers and so they work hand-in-hand. If the junior officers decline to work, the senior officers too cannot work and if the senior officers do not work, the ratings too will not be able to work. So, they work together as a team on-board and the essence of the merchant vessel cannot be over flogged. So, it is very relevant to the maritime industry. Without the merchant navy officers on-board, there will be no conveyance of goods to the production site or conveyance of personnel to their place of work. The conveyance of goods and personnel is the duty of the officers. We have different kinds of vessels like The Crew Vessel, Off-Shore, Logistic Vessel and so many types of vessels.
Is there any special training for anyone to become a Merchant Navy Officer?
Merchant Navy in general terms is Seafarers, Sailors and when we say Merchant Navy Officers, we categorise them. So, before they can become officers, they have to go through the academy to train in Nautical Science or Marine Engineering but before now, The Nigerian Merchant Navy Officers were called Home Trade Officers because, they grew up with the system that is, by vocational means.
Are Merchant Navy Officers those on-board vessels alone?
Yes, even those who have not jobs provided they have a certification can be members of the association. When we are talking of The Nigerian Merchant Navy Officers and Water Transport Senior Staff Association, we are talking about Senior Staff in the administration that are so recognised as senior staff because the administration of any company cannot operate without the operations so also the operation without the administration. So, they work together.
Is membership of the association by choice to anyone in that Cadre or is it mandatory?
Merchant Navy is one of the trade unions in the country with freedom of association but the junior officers (ratings) is not optional, it is automatic but when you get to the officers’ cadre, you have a choice to make.
What is the difference between Merchant Navy and other para-military organisations?
People misunderstand the Nigerian Merchant Navy for para-military organisation. By registration, it is purely a trade union by Trade Union Act of 1978. Before the Merchant Navy Officers Association, globally it was a para-military; in fact, The Navy is an offshoot of Merchant Navy. If you remember in the time of Noah in the bible, the Noah’s ark was a vessel and Noah was the captain so, Merchant Navy started from that time when people started working on-board ships and building vessels.
Why the choice of the name?
Merchant means commercial and navy means working on-board. So, Merchant Navy means commercial activities on-board.
Some people will call it sailor. It is more convenient to say Merchant Navy. Even some people call it Merchant Marine Officers. There is no difference between them.
What is a trade union?
Trade union is an organization that caters for the welfare of workers in an organisation. That is the short definition
Why is it necessary to have labour unions in organizations?
It is important. First and foremost, a personal service which is the welfare of the workers entails interaction and companies cannot interact with every staff in their payoff. It becomes mandatory that there should be some persons to talk to that is, leaders to interact with who will disseminate the information to the grassroots. We come as labour leaders to relate with people before managers so that whatever problems they have, they will come to us, we will put them in the right perspective and discuss that with management. Sometimes it leads to disputes and sometimes it is resolved
How do you cater for the welfare of your members?
The welfare of our members is taken care of by going into negotiation with their various employers. If a seafarer is going on-board for the first time, he is going as an applicant; he has nothing to cover him up. First of all, you have the company’s condition of service which is mostly one-sided. So, when the union comes in based on recognition from the employer, the union man makes sure that he draws a memorandum of condition of service and gives to the management and they will study it vis-à-vis. Policy handbook and then call for a meeting and start negotiation on the item which is called collective bargaining, that is the way it is. All the items will be bargained including the literature before going into the financial aspect of it to make sure that every area is agreed upon. When they are agreed upon, then they will draw up the agreed points in a document called Condition of Service or collective bargaining agreement for the workers bur if you have dispute, the result may be arbitration.
How has the association been working hard to see that the MLC 2006 is beneficial to your members?
Fortunately, I was one of those that attended the meeting of the MLC 2006 In Geneva and that was to make an amendment to certain areas of the MLC. The inpartite nature of the MLC was fully carried by Nigeria, now everybody will now expect that the employers start implementing it but there has to be some guidelines which is what NIMASA is doing. For now, that document is supposed to be the domesticated in the sense that it has to be in tandem with trade condition of the country. We are as develop as developed countries of the world, definitely we cannot have the same condition even though the MLC said there should be no difference.
The ILO brought in a document which they call there minimum wage for seafarers all over the world and that is what we are using now as a yardstick for our employers.