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Thursday, October 28, 2021

Dock labour company: A turning point in the annals of Banjul port

Stevedoring is one cardinal component of the Port industry. It entails a range of vital activities including loading and offloading of vessels in port; and it is often credited to be an important revenue stream of any port facility the world over. In fact, one of the indicators for a productive and efficient Port is measured against the output of its Stevedoring operations. 

It is inconvertibly true that all the major ports in the sub-region have transitioned from Service Port to Landlord Port, except Banjul Port. What does this imply? It means they have allowed private companies to invest in port development through public-private partnership. For instance, in Ghana, the privatization of Ghanaian Ports of Tema and Takoradi actually started in year 2000. All stevedoring operations have been ceded to Private Companies while Ghana Ports and Harbour Authority (GPHA) assumes the functions of a landlord and regulator. Just in Tema alone, nine (9) private groups now provide 75% of all stevedoring services across a range of terminals. 

This practice of public-private partnership is the latest trend in this industry. Port development is capital intensive. No single Port can shoulder the financial burden of its holistic development needs. Therefore, Ports, especially those in the third world countries, are keen to strike partnership with private investors on acceptable concession agreement, with a view to manage port operations more effectively and bring about economic growth and port infrastructural development.  

Has the GPA ever thought of jumping into the wagon and embrace the contemporary practice of privatizing an aspect(s) of port operations? Yes, it does and practical steps have since been taken. In fact, five (5) different Consultancy Services were carried out in this regard since 1997. Records have intimated that the first Consultancy Report on opening the Banjul Port to private companies was in 1997 by Felixstowe, a British firm. Subsequently, other reports ensued – National Stakeholders Workshop by AmRa in 2002; PKF in 2004; Deloitte in 2008 and PCAM in 2012. 

In February 2021, the Management of Gambia Ports Authority has taken a conscious and decisive move to contract Benom Consult, a Ghanaian-based firm, to do a thorough feasibility study and offer guidance on the privatization of Stevedoring operations and submit its report. The firm delivered on time as agreed. On 23rd -24th August, 2021, the Authority convened a validation workshop on the roadmap for the establishment of a Subsidiary Dock Labour Company; a two-day session attended by all stakeholder institutions including Ministries of Transport, Works and Infrastructure and Trade, Industry and Employment; Labour Commissioner and Office of the President. The project is aimed at transforming the Dock Labour, brought under GPA in 2007 from the Department of Labour following the Labour (Amendment) Act, 2004 and subsequent Government Directives in May, 2007.  

Currently, efforts are advanced for full implementation of a Dock Labour Company, possibly in January 2022.  The set-up of this new subsidiary Company will be arranged such that the GPA, Dockworkers and private equity may own shares. With this proposal, the GPA seeks to usher in a new dispensation that will address the dynamic changes that the port industry continues to experience, including the increasing technology in ships and port operations. The GPA is poised to provide quality stevedoring operations while addressing Dockworkers’ terms and conditions of employment and improved earnings. 

Certainly if the Company comes into being, it will be a significant turning point in the history of GPA. The importance and associated benefits could be positive. For the Authority, there will be a boost in port productivity and efficiency, as the stevedoring operations will be expedient and more effective and thereby partly improving ship turnaround time and curtailing the waiting time of vessels. Similarly, it will also address the unity of command in ship operation as two sets of workers under the status quo perform the same operation but have different interest and payment regimes – Dockworkers onboard vessels and Quay Labour Staff. Issues lamented by Dockworkers over the years will be resolved in a sustainable manner. These include the introduction of risk allowances, medical insurance scheme for dockworkers and identified dependants, improved welfare conditions, establishment of a Trust Fund for dockworkers, training facilities, access to loans and bonus payment. 

Finally, the proverbial adage of better late than never holds water in GPA Management’s attempt to migrate to a Landlord Port, where private investments are encouraged for port sustainable development and financing. The decision is in tandem with the Authority’s continuing efforts of the implementation of port infrastructure expansion projects and institutional reform, articulated in the New Port Masterplan 2019-2038. 

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