Burundi man fired by sisal estate over damaged knife seeks his dues

Taita taveta

Marko Ndirandekura during an interview with Nation in Voi, Taita Taveta County.

Photo credit: Lucy Mkanyika | Nation Media Group

Marko Ndirandekura left his village in Burundi in 1966 when he was 17 years old to come work as a casual labourer in Kenya at the Teita Sisal Estate in Mwatate, Taita Taveta.

Company officials had gone to the neighbouring country to seek cheap labourers.

"They promised that the pay was lucrative, so we accepted the offer and came here," he said.

Because jobs were scarce in Burundi, he was relieved to have one in Kenya and worked hard with the hope that he would one day return home a wealthy man.

He was a sisal cutter, working long hours to fetch 162 bundles of sisal a day.

"Each bundle contained 25 sisal leaves. The job was demanding; we did not have time to rest or take days off. They had lied to us that it was a good job, but since I was here I had to do it anyway," he said.

In 1989, he was absorbed as a permanent employee, but 17 years into the role, he was dealt a double blow after he was dismissed from work for damaging his knife and evicted from the company's house.

That day, after telling his supervisor that his knife had broken, he was ordered to return to work but insisted that he could not as he did not have a tool to cut the sisal.

He went back to his house on the sisal farm to look for another knife, but his supervisor told him he would face disciplinary action for defying his orders. 

"I could not work with the broken knife but my supervisor still insisted that I should go on with work. I went home and borrowed a knife from my neighbour, but when I reported back the following day I was dismissed," he said. 

That was in 2006. An eviction order then followed. His household items were loaded on a vehicle and abandoned outside the sisal estate.

He and his wife and four children were left homeless.

"I had to borrow money to look for a house as I sought justice for my wrongful sacking. I knew the case was difficult because I was not a Kenyan," he said. 

Not knowing where to start, Mr Ndirandekura filed a case against the company, claiming illegal termination.

In 2007, he won the case and was awarded Sh62,000 by a Wundanyi court, but his lawyer took all the money, denying him justice. 

Since his sacking, he has not been able to find a good job to feed himself and his family.

It has been 56 years since the frail 73-year-old man left his home in Burundi. With no income, he is also languishing in poverty.

He says he used to get menial jobs but nowadays they are hard to come by. He owes six months of rent and received a notice from his landlord to move out of his rented house.

He can neither get relief food nor receive any help from the government because he does not have a Kenyan identity card.

His wife died 10 years ago and his children travelled to their mother’s home in Kakamega, leaving him alone.

"Loneliness would have killed me. I had to look for someone to keep me company, but life is very hard," he said.

Well-wishers have tried to help him return to Burundi, but he cannot locate his relatives.

He regrets never returning to his family in Burundi and would like to be reunited with his siblings.

"When I came to Kenya, I did not think I would suffer. I cannot go back home because I cannot remember my village. I was the last-born son in my family. My parents and siblings could be dead by now," he said. 

What saddens him most is that he is unable to get his dues from the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) because he lacks an identity card and cannot open a bank account.

"It breaks my heart that I will not get any benefit for the 40 years I worked for the company. I used to spend long hours doing the heavy work, but I came out empty-handed," he told Nation.Africa. 

A report released by ActionAid Kenya on Teita Sisal Estate said some of its former employees suffered after they were dismissed from work. 

"In the early days workers crossed borders, thanks to the East African Community that allowed labour migration that saw many Ugandans, Tanzanians and Burundians come to find work in Kenya," the report says.

ActionAid said stakeholders need to do more to safeguard the rights of workers at the sisal estate. 

"They should first make Business and Human Rights a binding UN Treaty to improve the international human rights law framework that can enable sanctions against wayward companies, expose and publicise the transgressions of Teita Sisal Estate in its country of origin and the countries that purchase its products to force moral sanctions against the company by willing ethical buyers," the report says.

Taita Taveta Human Rights Watch official Beatrice Mjomba said there have been many such cases of workers being dismissed uprocedurally by the company. 

"We need to convene a meeting with the company and workers’ representatives to see how we can resolve the issues of human rights violations," she said.

Teita Sisal Estate Managing Director Philip Keriazzy was not available for comment by phone.