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KPA plans to lay off 4,000 employees in new purge

By Willis Oketch | October 13th 2015
Kenya Ports Authority Managing Director Gichiri Ndua. [Photo: File/Standard]

After sacking dozens of workers found to have been holding fake certificates two weeks ago, the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) is now planning to lay off thousands of its staff. The authority says it is seeking to improve on efficiency, adding that workers will be encouraged to retire voluntarily.

However, the Dock Workers Union (DWU) has contested the sacking of about 4,000 workers.

Several reports including an analysis by the World Bank have in the past recommended the reduction of the huge workforce at the port. DWU and KPA have been on a collision course several times this year over the fake certificates’ saga, proposals to privatise the port and refusal of the port management to reinstate sacked union officials.

The union is now bracing for another fight with KPA Managing Director Gichiri Ndua and the authority’s board over the new drive to reduce the workforce. Although DWU and KPA have agreed on the need to reduce the workforce in order to, among other reasons, bring down the Sh10.7 billion annual wage bill and foster efficiency, they appear to disagree on who should be targeted by the  Voluntary Early Retirement programme.

According to DWU Secretary General Simon Sang, the union wants a neutral body of four people excluding the KPA managing director to spearhead the staff reduction process. They have also proposed that the process should target more managers.

An internal report presented to the KPA board on August 22 last year claims that at the time, the port had 7,087 employees, including 1,651 managers.

Proposals to reduce staff at KPA’s branches in Mombasa, Kisumu, Nairobi and Lamu have raged for years without implementation. The matter of staff reduction has been as controversial as the proposal to privatise the port.

Proponents of privatisation want the port to reduce the workforce to 2,500, saying KPA cannot sustain the current wage bill and also operate optimally and efficiently as a Government entity.

Derail reforms

Apparently, the newly installed KPA board of directors, which had its first meeting on September 24, has reignited the workforce reduction threat and wants the permission of the Inspectorate of State Corporations in the office of Deputy President to launch it.

According to a letter from Ndua dated October 3 and addressed to the Office of the Deputy President, KPA says the reduction of the port’s staff is long overdue.

“As you are aware, implementation of the proposed Voluntary Early Retirement Scheme for employees has been pending, awaiting approval and/or further guidance from the Inspectorate of Corporations...,” says Ndua.

He then declares that “...in essence, KPA is ready to roll out the programme, which we reiterate is strictly voluntary.”

Ndua says reduction of port workers has been delayed, thus derailing proposed reforms.

“The KPA board has raised concern over the delay in implementing the scheme, which is key in the efficiency improvement initiatives being undertaken at the authority,” states the letter.

Ndua concludes that the “purpose of this letter is to seek your indulgence with a view to a speedy conclusion of the approval process.”

However, some workers have read mischief in the letter and insisted it is a plot to retrench them and pave way for employment of new workers.

And on Sunday, DWU warned the KPA management against targeting non-management workers, whom it said were being overworked. Sang claimed the port is actually faced with an acute shortage of low-cadre workers and proposed that instead of sacking such workers, KPA should retire 1,000 managers to create room and money for employment of more low-cadre workers.

“There is need to offload 1,035 workers in the management without them losing their pension benefit and save Sh2.6 billion per year. In order to address the perennial shortage of workers at critical levels, KPA should employ 1,000 workers in the low cadre to replace the managers as this will reduce the wage bill to Sh9.4 billion from Sh10.7 billion,” said Sang in Mombasa Monday.

 Sang said KPA spends Sh4.9 billion to pay its managers every year and Sh5.8 billion to pay the other workers in the lower cadres.

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