Loaders pile more woes on Sarrai in battle for Mumias

Mumias Sugar Factory

Loaders hang on to a tractor transporting sugarcane to Mumias Sugar Factory in February 2018.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Sugarcane loaders at troubled  Mumias Sugar Company now want Uganda-based Sarrai Group kicked out on allegations of exposing them to poor working conditions and paying them low wages.

Speaking at the company’s premises, Mumias Sugar Loaders Association Chairman Paulo Juma complained of being overworked and discriminated against by managers at the firm.

Mr Juma called on President William Ruto to fulfil his pledge to bring in a new investor who will look after their interests. Sarrai  Group has been cited for contempt for continuing with its operations in defiance of an order issued by the High Court.

Addressing local leaders and residents at Kakamega State Lodge in December last year, President Ruto had vowed to revive the sugar sector, pledging to bail out cash-strapped Mumias Sugar Company by writing off its debts and bringing in a new investor to replace Sarrai Group.

“If things are not done right, we are going to bring [a new] investor ... We want to see the factory running so that, every month, it gives Sh100 million to the County Government of Kakamega,” said Dr Ruto.

He added that, despite the State pumping substantial amounts of money to revive the miller, its woes have persisted, to the detriment of the people.

“No roads have been constructed lately by Mumias Sugar Company. Its employees have not educated their children yet the company has been gobbling up national government money. The factory collapsed due to mismanagement even after the national government pumped in Sh5 billion,” said the Head of State.

The President was particularly concerned that close to 8,000 acres that locals gave the company to be used as its nucleus estate for cane development were lying idle months after Sarrai Group took over the management of the miller.

He hinted at looking for a new investor through a process that would be above board to ensure the factory was in safe hands.

It’s this promise that the aggrieved loaders want President Ruto to fulfil.

Mr Juma said the workers are paid as low as Sh600 to share among six workers to load and offload sugarcane, translating to Sh100 per person.

During harvesting, they are paid Sh150 to cut down three rows of sugarcane in farms, an amount they say is inadequate compensation for the back-breaking work.

“If you dare complain, you get fired. We are being oppressed everywhere,” Mr Juma added.

Vacate their houses

Workers living within the factory estates are now being told to vacate their houses, with Sarrai Group demanding Sh2,000 from them as rent.

“They have threatened to evict us should we fail to pay the Sh2,000 rent. Where shall we go? Where are our rights?” Mr Juma posed.

Mumias Sugar Company Workers’ Union Secretary-General Vitalis Makokha accused the management of Sarrai Group of replacing locals with Indian nationals from Uganda, who have since taken over casual work such as weighing sugarcane, and fuelling trucks and tractors, among others.

Chew sugarcane

“At the weighbridge where sugarcane from the farms is weighed, Indians have taken over the jobs. They are the ones filling tractor tanks with fuel. They have denied locals of their rightful job opportunities,” Mr Makokha charged.

Mr Fadhil Odinga, a loader, said the inhumane treatment by Sarrai Group bosses had extended to not being allowed to chew sugarcane while ferrying it to the trucks.

“In the fields, we are prohibited from chewing the cane lest we lose our jobs,  yet they are not providing us with water or food. Are we prisoners?” Mr Odinga said.