He however informed his audience that their own way of celebrating the day is in terms of exhibiting what workers do everywhere in the world, adding that the Labour market in Sierra Leone is very tough and that workers do not seem to know their rights. “Even where you have union representation, the union is extremely weak and so you really don’t get the support mechanism for people in the labour market,” Mr. Savage said.
He maintained that specifically for the Maritime industry, “what we are discussing today are things we could have achieved in the first five years of the Maritime Administration’s existence,” adding that “now we are getting to twenty years and still, we are yet to see a definite path on how Maritime workers are going to benefit from what the government wants to do namely – diversify the economy.”
According to Mr. Savage, they have workers in the Maritime industry that have not been trained for the last two decades. He went on to say that they are now faced with international regulations and conventions that require Maritime workers to be trained and certified before they can get a job onboard a sea vessel.
He explained that they put out a joint statement yesterday May 1 with fishermen, although he is not representing the fishermen’s union but that they decided to do a joint statement because they work in the same environment.
“In twenty years, we don’t really have much to show about the existence of the Maritime Administration in Sierra Leone. And when it comes to the Labour Ministry, I am sure it is common knowledge in this country that there is no synergy between the government’s position and the interest of workers in this country,” he said.
He went further to say that most workers will tell you that they are not properly represented by the government where they work because according to Savage, workers can be fired at any time; and they can be paid low wages, and anything can happen to them. He added: “It appears as if the ministry just waits for fires to be put out. The approach in other words, is a fire fighting approach, they are not proactive. They do not come and engage with workers…this is common knowledge.”
Responding to questions from one of the AYV Wake Up Sierra Leone presenters Stella Bangura about whether the relationship between the Ministry of Labour and the Seafarers Union was cordial, Mr. Savage replied that for them it was very bad that some twenty five years ago when this country had over three thousand seafarers onboard more than thirty vessels, that relationship collapsed.
“So my question is: where was the Labour movement; where was the Labour Ministry? We have members who are owed benefits for the last twenty five years; so you would want to ask: what did the government do at the time when that was happening? The sort of demise of workers in this country did not start yesterday. This is something that has been going on for decades,” Savage lamented on behalf of his colleagues.
He went on to say that for the Maritime industry it is different because “we work under international conditions; international standards, but we do not even have the capacity to train workers to put onboard even vessels that fly Sierra Leone’s flag and this is terrible.” He further said that they have been talking about this for the last three years but that nothing has come out of it. “And so, we really need to start thinking out of the box,” Mr. Savage said.