State creates agency to push for better salaries and conditions of work for seafarers

Fishermen on their boat fishing in Indian Ocean [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Kenyan seafarers have a reason to smile after the government established an agency to negotiate better pay and improved work conditions for them.

The Maritime Wages Council (MWC) was gazetted on September 17 by Labour and Social Protection Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui, and will work with owners of shipping companies that have employed Kenyans to better their terms and conditions of work.

Mr Chelugui, in the gazette notice, said members of the council would serve for three years.

The council is led by its chairman Mwinyi Jahazi.

Dockworkers Union Secretary General Simon Sang, Stephen Owaki from the Seafarers Union of Kenya, Beth Njoki Mugo, Winfred Wariara, Salim Mwawaza, Captain Ali Ahmed, Stephen Kerio, Daniel Omondi Ogutu and Mohamed Omar Haji are members.

An estimated 5,000 Kenyans work aboard various vessels.

Jahazi said: “We will make sure our dedicated sea workers enjoy better salaries and improved working conditions.”

International Transport Workers Federation Mombasa Port Ship Inspector Betty Makena termed the formation of the council timely. “This is very refreshing news, coming at a time Kenya is joining in celebrations to mark the World Maritime Day on Thursday,” she told The Standard.

There have been efforts spearheaded by, among others, President Uhuru Kenyatta, to improve the lives of seafarers. These have included reviving the Kenya National Shipping Line, which has now partnered with global shipping giants such as Mediterranean Shipping Company, to provide jobs to Kenyans.

Kenya Maritime Authority board chairman Geoffrey Mwango said the sector lacked clear regulations on employment and wages despite the fact that Kenya is a member of the International Labour Organisation and has ratified the Maritime Labour Convention of 2006.

The convention set out elaborate seafarers’ rights, including better terms and conditions of work.

“Lack of the regulations has resulted in numerous complaints by seafarers. Most of the issues raised are yet to be addressed. Kenyans are not able to negotiate for better terms when they are being hired because of the lack of a regulatory framework,” said Mr Mwango.