Workers at new railway on strike

China Road and Bridge Corporation workers sit in a field at Syokimau in Machakos County on April 8, 2015 after they went on strike. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Drivers, masons, plumbers, and unskilled workers stopped work and sat in a field at Syokimau in Machakos County as Administration Police officers watched from a distance.
  • A company official at the site played down the complaints, saying he did not understand why the workers had gone on strike since “every time they have issues they go to the HR office where the matter is resolved.”
  • A woman, only identified as Madam Zhang, who is said to be the camp human resources manager, could not be reached for comment.

Workers constructing the railway on Wednesday went on strike over claims of poor pay and ill-treatment by their Chinese bosses.

Drivers, masons, plumbers, and unskilled workers stopped work and sat in a field at Syokimau in Machakos County as Administration Police officers watched from a distance.

The workers claimed the China Road and Bridge Corporation had not fulfilled a promise to improve working conditions.

“We are protesting against underpayment, poor working conditions and mistreatment by the Chinese,” said Mr Isaiah Mathenge, amid cheers from colleagues in blue jackets and trousers embroidered in Mandarin with the company’s insignia.

TAKE HOME PEANUTS

He said the workers had been doing their jobs without protective clothing and the uniform was only issued on Tuesday.

In addition, Mr Mathenge said the workers “take home peanuts”, and cited the case of a laboratory technician who earns Sh58 an hour.

Mr Francis Gichoni, a building technician, claimed the company did not value academic qualifications.

He said he is occasionally summoned to dig trenches and offload trucks yet he is a qualified technician.

A company official at the site played down the complaints, saying he did not understand why the workers had gone on strike since “every time they have issues they go to the HR office where the matter is resolved.”

He claimed the firm “pays well compared to other Kenyan companies” and this explained why people kept looking for jobs with them.

He also said it was natural for masons and technicians to be enlisted once in a while to move blocks.

COULD NOT BE REACHED

A woman, only identified as Madam Zhang, who is said to be the camp human resources manager, could not be reached for comment.

Although they are unionisable, the workers said they did not join a union imposed on them because they did not trust it.

Mr Mathenge hinted at possible collusion between the union and the company to oppress them.

The workers vowed not to resume work until the company addressed all their grievances.

In a statement, the company said it complied with local labour laws.

“The rates that we use to pay salaries are among the highest in the industry. Our salaries are over and above the minimum pay and also above the industry standards,” read the statement signed by a Mr Edward Macharia.

In addition, the company gives employees “additional perks that include house allowance, overtime allowance and daily shuttle services to and from work,” the statement said.

It said the company offered personal protection equipment for workers. The statement, however, did not specify what action the company would take to end the strike.

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