By YUSUF BABALOLA, Lagos –
The Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) has vowed to shut down the operations of Saipem in Nigeria over the company’s indebtedness running into more than $29 million (N10.6 billion) for various services at the port.
Saipem Nigeria is the Nigerian subsidiary company of Saipem, with a huge structure covering oil and gas industry such as drilling on/offshore, construction activities on/offshore (pipelines, power plants, fabrication activities) engineering, maintenance but operates in the Lagos seaport and Onne Port.
According to Wikipedia, Saipem in 2011 was under trial in Italy over charges relating to bribery in Nigeria. But, the President-General of MWUN, Comrade Adewale Adeyanju disclosed at the weekend that the union would shut down Saipem over indebtedness to dockworkers.
Saipem it was gathered owes the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) $19.3 million (N6.9 billion) for pilotage services and also owes dockworkers, who are members of MWUN, through their stevedoring contractor, Agwut A. International Ltd, more than $10.4 million (N3.7 billion) for accumulated stevedoring services.
The executive director, Marine and Operations of NPA, Dr. Sokonte Davies confirmed the company’s huge debts in a letter dated 15th November 2017. In the letter with reference number HQ/ED/M&O/OP/1130 addressed to the Managing Director of Saipem Contracting Nigeria Ltd, Davies said the huge indebtedness and Saipem’s lackluster attitude to meeting its financial obligations for the pilotage and stevedoring services is capable of stoking industrial crisis in the port.
Davies stated in the letter: “We are constrained to once more draw your attention to the looming industrial crisis you are stoking by the refusal of your company to pay outstanding stevedoring claims to Messrs Agwut A. International Ltd.
“You will recall that following the threatened industrial action by the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, whose members are affected by the non-payment, the Nigerian Ports Authority intervened through letters ref: HQ/ED/M&O/OP/799 and HQ/ED/M&O/OP/806 dated 22nd August 2017 and 12th September 2017 respectively. Further clarifications were made to stakeholders at a meeting recently held on stevedoring matters in which your company participated.
“The intention of the meeting is to ensure that affected parties equally understand all issues relating to this operation. Obligations on this operation are supported and guided by laws and extant guidelines in which all parties involved should not violate.”
Davies gave Saipem two weeks within which to pay up the huge sums owed the dockworkers but as at the end of the two weeks grace period, the company remains unmoved. MWUN President-General, Comrade Adewale Adeyanju, consequently said that an industrial action against the company appears inevitable.
According to Adeyanju, “This matter has been ongoing for more than a year and the workers that are working under them have been disturbing us but they (Saipem) are still adamant and have refused to pay. We have written series of ultimatum but they are still adamant.
“I don’t know why somebody will come and do business in Nigeria – of course we did not say they should not come and do business – but at least they should respect the opinion of Nigerians and pay the workers what belongs to them.
“The two weeks ultimatum given to them by NPA has elapsed and up till now, they have not called us for any meeting and this issue is generating a lot of crisis in the union because the workers are seeing us as if we have connived with the firm.
“We are planning a showdown because at our own level too, we have written, given them ultimatum and it has elapsed. We have directed our members not to do any job until they settle all the outstanding bill they owe us.
It is painful that somebody will work for you and you will not pay the person salary and we know what our economy is like today,” the union leader said.
A dockworker, Gideon, said the company had always taken dockworkers and the Nigerian authorities for granted. According to him, “Saipem already received the money for stevedoring and pilotage services from their contractors, who they work for, so they are taking Nigerians, the Nigerian Government and the union for a ride by withholding the payments due to them. This is not acceptable at all.”
Saipem has been in the eye of the storm lately as an Italian court ordered some of its executives to face trial on allegations of corruption in Nigeria and Angola.