Barring any last minute compromise, Nigerian ports will begin incurring a daily loss of over N5 billion as the indefinite strike called by organised labour to press home its demand for a new N30,000 new minimum wage begins tomorrow, November 6.
This is in addition to N648 million that may accumulate daily as demurrage on goods trapped in the ports, a cost usually borne by importers.
The development will further fuel inflationary pressures on the economy given the already high costs incurred by importers through the inefficiency in the management of ship and cargo traffic in Nigerian ports.
The loss is only in respect of import duties, special taxes and dues, terminal charges and fees collected by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and other statutory agencies.
However, for importers and freight forwarders, their major concern is on the extra costs to arise from the demurrage charges to be imposed on cargoes when the strike eventually ends. Even though the delay is for no fault of theirs, terminal operators have consistently slapped demurrage charges to cover the additional delays caused by strikes.
Freight forwarders have been seeking the intervention of the federal government to compel terminal operators to cease what they say is the “punishment” of importers and their agents for defaults that are no fault of theirs.
The N5 billion daily loss comprise the N2 billion lost by the Nigeria Customs Service being the average daily receipt from import duties and N200 million by the NPA.
Already the leadership of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN), the umbrella group of workers in the industry, has mobilised its members for full compliance with the shutdown planned by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC).
While the federal government had proposed N24,000 as new minimum wage, state governors had said they can only afford N22,500 while organised labour insisted on N30,000. The November 6 nationwide strike by labour is to force the government to accede to its stance which it said was the agreement reached through earlier negotiations by all the parties.
Freight forwarders had been warning of rising shipping costs that are not just putting pressure on cost of consumer goods but driving shipping and cargo traffic to ports in neighbouring countries, especially Cotonou Port in Benin republic, Nigeria's nearest neighbour.
Kenneth Chukwuma, a customs agent, said the ultimate winner will be Nigeria’s neighbours. “The unfortunate truth is that while our ports will be groaning, Cotonou port will be booming. Its going to be business as usual for some importers that have lost faith in Nigerian ports. They will only deepen their patronage of other ports while more importers will join them,” he said. Chukwuma called for a quick resolution of the wage issue.
If the strike goes ahead, it will be the second time in less than two months that organised labour will be embarking on nationwide industrial action over the minimum wage. Last September, labour had a short-lived strike that was called off after three days with the expectation that the grey areas were resolved.