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Uhuru tours Mombasa port amid looming strike by KPA employees

By Patrick Beja | November 11th 2021

Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) employees during Safety awareness campaign on May 28, 2018. [Gideon Maundu, Standard]

President Uhuru Kenyatta will on Friday commission a modern shipyard at the Port of Mombasa amid a looming strike by Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) employees in a row over salary increment.

The 4,400 unionisable workers issued the seven-day strike notice on Wednesday.

They are accusing KPA of failing to implement a 10 per cent pay rise it had agreed upon with the Dock Workers Union (DWU) in March. 

The union has also accused the authority of going back on a promise to cap overtime payment at 30 per cent of workers' monthly salaries. KPA has also been accused of failing to promote workers as required.

DWU officials wrote to KPA's acting managing director John Mwangemi informing him of the looming strike after their talks on these issues reportedly hit rock bottom.

The union also represents over 200 Kenya Ferry Services (KFS) who were absorbed by KPA early this year.

President Kenyatta will be opening the first modern shipyard at Mtongwe Kenya Navy Base within the port area even as the KPA workers gear up for the strike. 

A shipyard (also called a dockyard) is an enclosed area of land where ships are built and repaired.

At least 70 per cent of the new facility will be owned by the Kenya Defence Forces and will be operated by the Kenya Shipyard Limited.

The new facility has been billed as the largest in East Africa and is expected to contribute massively to the growth of the blue economy.

DWU general secretary Simon Sang said the decision by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) declining to approve the 10 per cent salary rise against the agreement between KPA and advise of the National Assembly, has frustrated workers.

SRC declined to approve the 10 per cent pay rise arguing it is against its guidelines for state agencies to negotiate a four-year Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) as opposed to two years.

DWU had demanded that workers should be paid for every extra hour worked instead of capping overtime to 30 per cent of their monthly salaries.

Sang said the decision to go on strike was reached by the union's national executive committee on November 9 after their talks during their last Joint Industrial Council (JIC) meeting hit a dead end.

“The resolutions herein have been reached as a consequence of the failure by management to respect and adhere to the spirit and letter of instruments which regulate and govern good industrial relations in labour and employment such as industrial relations charter, collective bargaining agreement and recognition agreement as relates to the terms and conditions of service,” said Sang's letter to the MD.

At the same time, Sang accused KPA of deliberately ignoring and refusing to apply the Human Resource Manual (HRM) of 2017 to benefit employees who have been in acting capacity for more than six months and others who have been acting in senior positions for more than four years.

“In the circumstances, the union does issue a seven-day strike notice in accordance with section 76 (a) and (c) of the Labour Relations Act No. 14 of 2007 from the date when this notice is duly received by yourself,” Sang said in the notice dated November 10, 2021.

The letter announcing the strike was copied to cabinet secretaries Simon Chelegui (Labour), Ukur Yatani (National Treasury), James Macharia (Transport) and Fred Matiang’i (Interior) as well as Central Organisation of Trade Unions secretary-general Francis Atwoli and secretary-general of the International Transport Workers Federation.

The 10 per cent salary rise stalemate has held back negotiations for the 2022/2023 CBA.

Over 2,000 unionisable port workers paralysed operations in July 2015 when they went on a strike in protest against higher deductions for the government’s national health insurance scheme, prompting port management to threaten to fire them, having advertised their positions.

In the end, East Africa’s biggest port dismissed 27 workers it believed were behind a strike said to have cost the port about Sh200 million.

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