NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 14 – At least 10,000 unionisable workers at the Kenya Power and Lighting Company (KPLC) downed their tools on Monday as a countrywide strike went into effect.
Kenya Electrical Trade and Allied Workers Union (KETAWU) Secretary General Ernest Nadome said that the strike was as a result of the management’s failure to address issues raised by the workers.
He said the workers were opposed to private contractors whom they accused of massive fraud and wanted the terms of long-serving casual workers reviewed.
“Enough is enough,” Mr Nadome said. “Contractors are all over in KPLC and these same managers are the ones who own these companies through proxies.”
The union claimed that some casual staff had worked for more than 10 years without a review on their terms.
“The company should desist from using cheap labour to achieve its targets,” Mr Nadome said.
In Kisumu, striking employees engaged police in running battles.
The union Branch Secretary Vincent Okullo who was arrested alongside another official vowed not to relent until workers’ grievances were addressed.
The unionisable workers protested angrily at the arrest of their boss and swore not to return to work if there was no amicable return-to-work formula.
Anti riot police led by Kisumu police boss John Mwinzi had lobbed teargas at the protesting workers along Railways Road. They had difficult time arresting Mr Okullo after workers tried to repulse the officers.
He was later bundled into a police van and driven away.
Mr Mwinzi says the two officials were to be arraigned in court as soon as possible.
Kenya labour laws of 2007 state that the terms of a casual worker should be reviewed after 28 days to term contract or permanent employment.
Mr Nadome said the strike would only be called off when the management addresses all issues including those of the Mombasa workers who had been on strike for the past one week.
“The current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) has delayed and parties (union and management) must meet to conclude this very fast,” he demanded.
“The impediment to all this is none other than the Chief Manager (for) Human Resource and we are saying he must go,” he said amidst chants from union members.
They threatened to cause a nationwide power outage during the strike.
“We are going to withdraw labour and the bulk of KPLC services are usually carried out by unionisable employees, the management staff do not have the competence or even the numbers to carry out the duties that we do,” he said.
But this threat was countered by the power firm’s management which threatened disciplinary measures for any worker who fails to turn up to work.
“Staff who will not be at their places of work will be considered to have absconded from duty, and appropriate disciplinary action will be taken,” KPLC Communications Manager Migwi Theuri told Capital News.
He, at the same time, assured customers of uninterrupted services during the strike.
“KPLC has put in place elaborate measures to ensure there will be continuity of services throughout the country, and that customers will not be inconvenienced if the Union carries out its threat.”
In September last year KETAWU called off an intended strike after an agreement was reached between the management and union officials following intervention by the Ministry of Labour to diffuse a stand off.
The parties had agreed that contracting of jobs would be done through a joint committee comprising KPLC management and union members but Mr Nadome has accused the management of failure to adhere to the agreement.