On March 14, 2019, Dismas Hare lost his right thumb and index finger while arranging containers at the port of Mombasa.
The man who was hired by a private ship contractor has since quit the job after the incident. He is yet to be compensated for the loss.
“Since I lost my two fingers in a ship, I have not returned to the port. I am yet to be compensated,” he said. Diana Peter said private dockworkers (stevedores) are often subjected to accidents and even sexual harassment.
She said female stevedores often face sexual harassment, particularly by some supervisors who threaten to take away their port passes.
“It has been tough working as a private dockworker. We face sexual harassment and threats,” she said. A few years ago, we found Hussein Ali Zenje at his Mtongwe home in Mombasa county confined to a wheelchair after he suffered a broken left leg and right arm while working on Mv Star Zeta at berth number 11 at the port.
He had fallen while on a ship hatch as he cleaned it.
“Two of us were on the scaffold cleaning the hatches of the ship using pressure pumps from a compressor when it suddenly fell. We were lucky to have survived,” Zenje said.
Speaking from his Denyenye home Athman Bakari Korera, who is Zenje’s colleague said he fell on his back on the same night and injured his spinal cord.
Until recently, little was known about private stevedores and their plight at the port where they work alongside dockworkers employed by the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA).
But the private gangs are currently registering as members of the Bottax Workers Union of Kenya. The transport sector union represents boda boda, tuk tuk and taxi operators in the country.
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Reports indicate that 500 of the nearly 5,000 stevedores have joined Bottax. The Forum International Cooperation (FIC) has been working closely with trade unions in the transport sector to address the plight of workers including private stevedores.
Bottax Kenya vice chairman Raymond Ruto said members have suffered in silence due to fear of victimisation.
“Our members work without contractual agreements and are sometimes paid more than two months after the ships have left. Most live in low-end residential areas and often work without rest,” he said.
Bottax Kenya Secretary General Cynthia Wanyonyi said it is important for workers to join a union that will protect their rights.
Most ship contractors hire stevedores as casuals. Kenya Ship Contractors chairman Richard Jeffwa said recently that they have been lobbying government to secure better rates so as to pay private stevedores better.
A survey carried out among 254 waterfront manual workers in August this year shows that 224 respondents or 96 per cent are casuals and only 10 per cent are on contract.
The survey also established that 214 out 254 private dockworkers have no National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) cover while 213 are not listed with National Social Security Fund.
On safety, the survey has established that 243 respondents or 95 per cent work without personal protective equipment (PPEs).
In particular, the duties of the private waterfront labourers include lashing, cleaning ships and quayside, tallying of imports and exports, trimming and watch-keeping on ships.
FIC mobilised trade unions with the support of Danish labour movements to upgrade the work conditions of private port workers in the country under a project called “Do Something.” It involves influencing stakeholder dialogue.
Another survey indicated that out of 194 respondents or 51 per cent are paid between Sh401 to Sh600 as wages per shift.
It also shows 72 respondents or 37 per cent are paid between Sh601 and Sh800 per shift while those earning between Sh801 and Sh1000 per shift are only two or 1.03 per cent. Respondents who are paid less than Sh400 are 21 representing 11 per cent.
In the survey, respondents who have worked for one year or less are 31 or 16 per cent.
Respondents who have worked for two-three years are 49 representing 25 per cent while those who have worked for four to five years are 44 or 23 per cent.
Respondents who had worked at the port for five years and above are 70 representing 36 per cent.