Seasoned unionist battles steep competition as dock workers vote
By Patrick Beja | April 13th 2016
Dock workers went to the polls yesterday with the embattled incumbent General Secretary Simon Sang fighting it out with three candidates to defend his seat.
Besides Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) and Kenya Ferry Services (KFS), Mr Sang has fought battles with Central Organisation Trade Unions (Cotu) Secretary General Francis Atwoli. Cotu was angered by Sang’ when he led the 5,800 members to join its rival, Trade Union Congress of Kenya (TUC-K) headed by Kenya National Union of Teachers Secretary General Wilson Sossion.
Members voted in Mombasa, Lamu, Nairobi and Kisumu yesterday where KPA has operations. Inside sources indicated that the management of the two State corporations where the Dock Workers Union (DWU) derives its members would be glad to see Sang lose the polls.
Sang has been a thorn in the flesh of KPA and KFS management for leading paralysing strikes to demand pay increase and reinstatement of sacked workers.
Last year, he spearheaded court cases after over 100 employees were sacked over fake certificates and about a dozen union officials dismissed for participating in a strike at Mombasa port. The union lost both suits.
Yesterday’s election was marred by confusion in the list of voters’ roll and started many hours late in most of the 14 polling stations. Some candidates claimed that this favoured Sang.
According to the chairman of the election board Martin Oindo, polling stations were expected to open from 6am yesterday but Dockyard, Bandari College and Kenya Ferry centres reportedly opened in the afternoon due to hitches.
A docker Francis Otieno said the ballot boxes and materials were distributed late in all polling stations causing a major delay.
“Although the exercise is currently going on smoothly, it began late and most members are concerned about this hitch,” Mr Otieno said.
Mr Oindo, however, said the hitches were addressed and that the poll went on smoothly afterwards.
Outgoing DWU vice chairman Michael Kituku, who is in a team of candidates which was abandoned by Sang after being sacked by KPA management last year, claimed that polls started early in Sang’s strongholds at Kapenguria, K-Section and container terminal.
Flanked by outgoing treasurer and a member of the so called Solidarity Team, Ms Judith Abuka, he claimed that many members did not vote because of the hitches.
“We are concerned that by 1pm dockers had not began voting at the Kenya Ferry which makes this exercise a sham,” Mr Kituku said.
Yesterday, Sang denied the claims and maintained that the delay was mainly occasioned by new measures to curb malpractices.
“The new election has enforced measures where names of union members checked against their payroll in a polling station as opposed to the past where the same payroll was used in all poll centres and members could vote twice. My strongholds during the container terminal were also affected after the election started past 8am. The hitches did not favour anybody,” he said.
The candidates, he said, had been informed about the hitches and that time may be extended for polling stations where election began late. A candidate for the post of general secretary Bakari Bweta confirmed this.
“We are happy that the hitches have been sorted out and the exercise is going on peacefully,” he said.
Other candidates challenging Mr Sang are former Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) manager Abdalla Randani and a KPA pension scheme trustee Katana Wara.
Sang was first elected general secretary in 2006, replacing outspoken former Changamwe MP Kennedy Kiliku. He is currently seeking a third term in office.
Mr Sang whose top officials are challenging KPA management for their removal last year over a strike at the port of Mombasa has exuded confidence that he would triumph, banking on his record at the union’s helm.
In an interview, Sang said that the union managed to push for employment of 3,325 casuals at KPA.
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