Stevedore firms consider lay-offs as operations shrink

A sharp increase in the number of stevedore companies at the country’s ports without a corresponding increase in demand for labour has made the loading and unloading business unprofitable, with many of the firms considering layoffs.

The number of stevedore companies has increased from seven to 20 recently, while four new shore-handling companies have been registered to undertake operations previously handled by one company.

The situation, according to the Maritime and Dockworkers Union (MDU), is worrisome – and it could affect overall port efficiency.

“Government must, as a matter of urgency, save the dying stevedore companies from total collapse by reviewing the policy of increasing the number of stevedoring companies without due regard to the capacity of the ports and level of increase in cargo throughput,” General Secretary of the MDU, Daniel Owusu-Koranteng, told the B&FT.

“There is a yawning gap between the high increase in number of stevedore firms and the minimal 10 percent increase in cargo throughput to the country’s ports,” he said.

According to the MDU, the loading and unloading business currently employs over 2,000 workers, but the “chaotic situation” could result in the loss of jobs as some companies have initiated measures to downsize labour through redundancies and de-listing workers from permanent to casual.

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The MDU argues further that it is not a prudent business decision to have an increase in the number of registered stevedore companies without a corresponding increase in cargo throughput.

The Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) handled a total of 21 million metric tonnes of cargo last year, exceeding its set target of 20million metric tonnes.

The figure represents a 2 million metric tonnes increase over the 19 million metric tonnes recorded in 2016.

This gross of cargo was carted by the 1,850 vessels that called at the Tema and Takoradi Ports within the same period—which also showed a slight increase over the 1,830 vessel calls that were recorded in 2016.

But, overall, there was a marginal increase of 10 percent, which the MDU contends does not warrant the sudden increase in number of companies that handle loading and unloading cargo at the ports.

“If previously we had seven stevedore companies handling the volume of cargo traffic to Tema and Takoradi Ports, now that volume will be shared by 20 companies.

“Currently, some companies that have operations in both Tema and Takoradi are being asked to choose between the two. Given the current competition, a lot of them will lose business and not be able to sustain their workers,” Mr. Owusu-Koranteng indicated.

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According to the MDU, stevedore companies constitute an important local content of the maritime industry which creates jobs and guarantees retention of revenues from the sector in the national economy, among other benefits.

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