The Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) has vowed to shut down Saipem's operations in Nigeria over the company's alleged indebtedness put at more than $29 million (about N10.6 billion) for various services at the port.
President-General of MWUN, Comrade Adewale Adeyanju disclosed this in Lagos over the weekend.
He said that Saipem 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, also confirmed the company's huge indebtedness in a letter dated November 15, 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 was capable of stoking industrial crisis in the port.
The letter obtained by THISDAY read in part: "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."
Saipem had been given two weeks within which to pay up the huge sums owed the dockworkers. It was gathered that the company is yet to comply with the directive after the two weeks grace period.
MWUN President-General, Comrade Adewale Adeyanju said: "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.