By Yankuba Jallow
The Gambia Dock and Maritime Workers Union are still demanding for justice from the government through Gambia Ports Authority.
“We want a dock labour scheme that protects our rights and wages. Any amendment of the Labour Act 2007 should make provision for collective bargaining between the dockworkers and the shipping agencies,” they demanded, noting that the role of the government should be to mediate through the Joint Industrial Council.
They said they are independent of the Gambia Ports Authority (GPA) and are required to receive their pay directly from the shipping agencies, not the GPA.
They said dockworkers have been suffering since the first republic to date. Thy said there were some workers who died whilst doing their work and their families have never been paid, adding that those paid by the Ports pay are only provided with tickets with no receipt of payment.
The dockworkers complained that dockworkers under the National Dock Workers Scheme did not hold any pensionable position. The GPA has told the government that they will pension dockworkers beyond 60 years.
“There are some dock workers working beyond 60 years. We are not provided a pension. Right now, there are people who are working and are beyond 70 years,” they said.
They told Foroyaa that they have written to the Ministry of Trade on several occasions in both the former and the current regime as well as President Adama Barrow, but their plight is yet to be addressed by government. They said they held discussion with President Adama Barrow while he was operating from Kairaba Beach Hotel about their problems, but they haven’t heard from him since then.
“Like it is all over the world, we were on contract and were paid by the shipping companies. We were not employees of the Gambia Ports Authority. It was therefore very strange when we received letters of termination of our services by the GPA and offering us severance pay with an obligation not to institute any suit against the GPA should we accept the payment,” the dockworkers told Foroyaa.
They said the leadership of the dockworkers refused to sign a document which obliges them to disclaim and renounce any right they have to pursue their entitlement.
A delegation of the Executive of the Dock and Maritime Workers Union came to Foroyaa on Tuesday the 30th of April. They are Amadou Touray –President, Malick Secka alias Pa Malick –SG, Yusupha Ndow – Trustee and Ousman Senghore- Adviser.
The executive members told Foroyaa that the Stevedores are organized as independent entities and are paid directly by shipping agencies based on contractual agreements. They said historically, the Stevedores have gone through three distinct phases.
The Pre 1972 Phase
They said from 1961 up to 1972, the dock workers were independent and free labour force to be tapped when their services are needed.
“We were paid directly by the shipping agents and labour was contractual in nature,” they held.
The Post-1972 Phase
They said this was the time the GPA was established and it was the time when direct payment from shipping agencies ceased and they started to pay the dock workers through the GPA.
“The dock workers were ignorant as to what was paid by the shipping agents to GPA. Dockworkers were also left in limbo as to how they should proceed to make and receive injuries’ compensation claims because they weren’t able to pursue the shipping agents directly which led to the loss of many claims,” they said.
According to their claim, even though payment was still done by GPA, the dock workers still enjoyed their independence because the gang recruitment scheme continued until 2007. They said this was why a Port Labour Board was created comprising three representatives of employers and three representatives of trade unions. The Board had the power to discipline the registered workers and the employer or shipping agent had the right to reject a registered worker. The registered workers functioned as gangs with a leader.
“Hence a responsibility system existed and any queries could be investigated and appropriate punishment imposed to redress misconduct,” they said.
They said the Joint Industrial Council was responsible for fixing the minimum terms and conditions of employment including minimum rates of remuneration of work, holidays and absence during sickness. It also established minimum rates for overtime and bonus. They said this continued until 2007 when the whole port labour scheme was dismantled and this is the source of the current crisis.
The Post-2007 Phase
The Labour Act was amended and the GPA was soon authorized to recruit and employ all dock workers whether previously registered or not. They said they have not been staffed and only a small portion of the money paid by the shipping agencies for the labour of the dockworkers are paid to them.
“The GPA recruited dockworkers who are purportedly their employees. This is false. The dockworkers are still treated as contractual labourers who still work in gangs and stay away from work until another gang is engaged. There is no pension scheme for them as some are still engaged even up to the age of seventy years,” the dockworkers said.
Foroyaa will get in touch with the authorities to find out how they are handling the claims of the dockworkers.