Operations at the Mombasa Port ground to a halt yesterday after the more than 5,000 workers, who are members of the Dock Workers Union (DWU), went on strike to protest the new National Hospital Insurance Fund rates.
The strike started at the stroke of midnight in response to a call by their umbrella union, Trade Unions Congress of Kenya (TUC-Ke), which has termed the new rates as exploitative and unilateral.
The strike affected all departments and caused a huge traffic snarl-up on both sides of the highway, stretching kilometres from Changamwe to the port. No goods were offloaded or allowed to leave the port. Workers also abandoned all berths and yards, paralysing the entire port and Kilindini Harbour. Managers were mobilised to take over and man essential departments like ticketing.
The DWU members who include 200 workers of Kenya Ferry Services vowed to stay away from work until the new rates that have seen the deductions increase by over 400 per cent are revoked. The striking employees also blocked the public from entering the port. Clearing agents and transit truck drivers were not allowed to get close to the port's heavily barricaded gates.
The members gathered outside the port's main gate, chanting anti-government slogans. They demanded the revocation of the new rates and called for President Uhuru Kenyatta to intervene. Addressing workers outside Gate 10 at Docks, DWU deputy Secretary General Abubakar Mohamed said the increase of the deductions from Sh320 to Sh1,700 had been done without the consent of the workers.
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"The strike, which has begun today (yesterday) will continue until the day the Government listens to us and revokes the new rates," said Mohamed.
He blamed the Government for gazetting the rates despite efforts by the union to seek an amicable solution and a seven-day strike notice by TUC-Ke, an umbrella union bringing together dock workers, teachers and university workers.
"Through TUC-Ke, we held a series of meetings, the last being in Naivasha, where we appealed for the revocation of the new rates but the Government went ahead to gazette the rates. We will not return to work until the new rates are revoked," said Mohamed.
He called on the Government to sit down with TUK-Ke to see how the new rates can be revoked to end the strike.