Chaos at Kenya Ports Authority as police evict sacked workers

Household items belonging to one of the sacked Kenya Ports Authority workers evicted from the agency’s Shimanzi Highrise estate. The workers had been given 48 hours to vacate the houses. (Photo: Maarufu Mohammed/Standard)

The clash between Kenya Ports Authority and the Dock Workers Union (DWU) took an ugly turn Sunday after police forcibly evicted the 28 sacked employees from the agency's houses.

KPA sacked the workers despite a directive from acting Transport Cabinet James Macharia reversing the dismissal. Those sacked include shop stewards and members of DWU executive board.

The sacked employees and their families were thrown out by port security who broke into houses under police guard amid screams from terrified children and protests from jeering port workers.

Reports indicate that some of the workers left the houses before police arrived and kicked out those who had stayed put. Some of the workers were stranded, with others soaking in the light evening rains at the Coastal city.

DWU Secretary Simon Sang termed the eviction inhuman and illegal, arguing that the 28 evicted workers required three-month notice to leave the property.

KPA accused the sacked employees of inciting the port's 5,000 workers to protest the National Hospital Insurance Fund rates, which the Trade Union Congress also opposes.

KPA argues that there is no registered grievance between it and DWU to warrant the strike.

On Saturday, thousands of job-seekers jammed Bandari College to respond to an advertisement by KPA seeking to replace dismissed workers, who have threatened to challenge the decision in court.

Many fainted or were injured in the long queues and stampedes that ensued.

Sunday, there were signs of splits in the DWU after a group of dock workers accused Sang of misleading them.

"We want a special conference to pick new leaders. Although we sympathise with our sacked colleagues, the fact is that the management is right," said Geoffrey Mareko, a KPA worker who is a DWU member.

He said DWU was still a member of the Central Organisation Trade Union as KPA was deducting Sh100 from their salaries and remitting to the organisation.

KPA on Friday summarily dismissed 28 employees it said were behind the two-day strike that paralysed operations at the Port of Mombasa, leading to a cargo pile up.

 Two-hour standoff

In the dismissal letters seen by The Standard, the sacked employees were given 48 hours to vacate the staff houses and to return the firm's properties.

Earlier, KPA Housing Administrator Jane Kamau had led a group of youths to evict the officials from their houses at High Level KPA staff quarters but were repulsed by another group.

"Three KPA vehicles came with youths to evict me from the house. I closed the house and they wanted to break in but we overpowered them and they run away. The youths were not KPA employees, and I am told they were hired from Majengo," said Yakob Mohamed, one of the sacked employees.

The standoff between the rival groups lasted for two hours before police were called in to defuse the tension.

"KPA should know that these employees have already been traumatised with the sack. They should be humane. KPA should know that the employees are staying here on tenancy agreement and not occupation arrangement which means they should get a three-month notice," said Sang.

Managing Director, Gichiri Ndua, said he will not reverse the dismissals despite the directive from Macharia.

"Those 28 are no longer employees of this organisation. They have received their summary dismissal letters. They incited employees and bribed them to participate in an illegal strike that had nothing to do with KPA," said Ndua.

He said the port incurred huge losses as a result of the strike, with KPA General Manager Human Resource and Administration terming it "economic sabotage."

According to Ms Mary Munala, an official at the Conventional Cargo section, some of the sacked workers had not received their letters because they have been denied entry into the port.