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Somali workers raise concerns over Turkish management of Mogadishu Port

Mogadishu Port workers protest lower wages and other concerns on September 23rd, two days after management of the port was transferred to Turkish company Albayrak. [Abdi Moalim/Sabahi]

By Abdi Moalim
Friday, October 3, 2014

Since Turkish company Albayrak took over management of the Port of Mogadishu on September 21st, port workers say they are concerned that their pay will be decreased by more than 70% and that their employment at the port is uncertain.

"Before this new company we earned $6.60 for a 50-kilogramme [load], however, the company has now proposed that we should earn $1.80, which is a very low rate that we cannot work on," said Yusuf Warsame Afrah, chairman of the Mogadishu Port Workers Union.

Port employees work on a rotation schedule managed by the union, depending on the shipments arriving at the port, Afrah said. Under that system, with the previous salaries, port employees earned an average of $150-160 per month.

Afrah also accused Albayrak of attempting to replace some of the current employees with others hired directly by the company.

"It replaced the employees who operate the cranes that unload ships," he told Sabahi, adding that the company brought in new employees and trained them on how to operate the new machines.

Afrah said six crane drivers who were laid off when Albayrak took over management of the port refused to leave their posts and disrupted port operations until police arrested them on September 28th. The workers were released from custody Wednesday (October 1st).

Afrah said the union forwarded its complaints to the government, but the government has not yet provided a satisfactory response.

"We met with the prime minister and laid out our difficulties for him," he said. "The prime minister told us that our wages would be raised to $3.50, but that is not enough and does not satisfy us."

Afrah said the prime minister appointed a committee to address this matter, but the union was not satisfied with it.

"The minister of ports and the Mogadishu port administrator, who are the people we were complaining about, are part of this committee," he said. "We are not part of it, therefore it is not a committee that has earned trust."

In a statement addressing the port workers' concerns, Albayrak said its main objective was to support the development of the Somali economy.

"The Albayrak Group is in an endeavour towards turning the Port of Mogadishu into a key address in the African economy and international market," the company said. "In order for every process to be recorded and every operation to be healthy, it is essential to establish a system and to conduct the process according to these principles."

Under the agreement with the Somali federal government, Albayrak will take in 45% of the revenue, which the company said will go towards international promotion of the port, investment in new machines, construction, new ports and port-based trade. The remaining 55% of port revenues will be transferred to the Somali government.

Afrah said they have no knowledge of what other impact the agreement reached between the government and the company will have on port employees.

"It is a secret agreement and we do not know anything about the details. We had a right to see the agreement since we are the people who did most of the work at the port," he said.

Trade unions: government should safeguard rights of workers

The Somali Congress of Trade Unions (SCTU) said the federal government should protect the rights of workers and create jobs for the people who have been impacted by the agreement with Albayrak.

"It is important to develop the port, but the government has to find a solution for the thousands of families whose livelihoods depended on port work," SCTU Chairman Mohamed Osman Haji told Sabahi.

"Considering the families of the port labourers, with each family comprised of an average of five people, and the port labourers who are about 5,000 people, it means that at least 25,000 people will be without income and this could result in a big problem," he said.

"The government is responsible for the people and it has to assume its responsibility," he said, adding that the government should create other job opportunities for the port workers.

"The employees are not ready for and cannot work on the money that has been proposed," he added. "As SCTU we are concerned about the prospect of 5,000 people leaving their jobs at the port and becoming unemployed. That can even lead to creating instability in the city."

Minister of Ports and Marine Transport Yusuf Moalin Amin declined to comment on the employees' complaints.

For his part, lawmaker Dahir Amin Jesow, who was part of a group of lawmakers that met with the prime minister and the minister of ports, said the agreement reached with Albayrak would be brought before parliament for examination.

"The prime minister told us they would correct [any] mistake that has occurred," said Jesow, expressing optimism that the port workers' complaints would be addressed.

Port of Mogadishu needs to be modernised

Putting the labour issues aside, Abdikamil Mohamed, professor of business management at Mogadishu University, said developing the Port of Mogadishu was necessary for the entire region, and that it is important to turn over management of it to a company that can bring it up to modern standards.

"It is necessary to modernise the work of the port and move on from the system where every task was manual and change that to modern methods," he told Sabahi.

"If the port is properly modernised and expanded, it can become a port that can be useful to the governments in the region that do not have ports, such as Ethiopia," he said. "However, it cannot become an international port that is utilised by other governments the way it is now."

Mohamed said Turkish companies have a reputation for good and efficient work, citing examples such as roads, hospitals, schools and the other progress they are achieving in Somalia.

"Therefore, I believe this company will make a big difference in this port and will develop it," he said.


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