Kenyan workers’ strike halts Chinese railway project

Construction stopped on a major rail scheme in Kenya this week after hundreds of workers went on strike against the Chinese contractor.

The strike over pay and conditions follows the deaths last month of two workers on the project who were crushed when a culvert collapsed.

Today, for the second day, more than 800 workers vowed not to return to building the 120km standard gauge railway (SGR) from the capital Nairobi inland to the town of Navaisha in the northeast until their grievances were addressed, news site, Standard, reports.

As well as better pay and safety provisions, the workers complained that the contractor, China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), a subsidiary of the giant China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), had been transporting them to site in open lorries.

In response, CCCC said today that it would be providing buses.

In response to complaints CCCC said today it had ordered buses to transport workers (CRBC via Facebook)

"We are exposed to many dangers as was proven two weeks ago. The Labour ministry should intervene," one of the workers striking at Mai Mahiu, Navaisha, referring to the fatalities in December, told newspaper The Star when the disturbance began.

Two workers died and four were injured at Mai Mahiu on 18 December when a culvert on the line collapsed. One worker told The Star that the victims did not have helmets or protective gear, and that the affected structure was weak following heavy rains.

This was denied, however, by the managing director of Kenya Railways Corporation, Atanus Maina, who told Capital FM that an abnormally strong wind caused the collapse.

Maina also refuted claims the workers were not properly equipped with safety gear, but said CRBC would conduct a safety compliance check.

CCCC been responding to the strike on social media. In a statement by spokesman Steve Zhao published on Facebook today it said: "The workers have raised a number of issues as the reason to their strike and we have taken up the issues in a responsible approach."

The company said it adheres to Kenyan labour laws and has "spared no effort to ensure that we offer our staff the best possible working conditions".

This week CCCC has been using site photographs to show its concern for worker welfare (CRBC via Facebook)

On the issue of pay, CCCC said it "varies depending on the skill level and position in the company", but that it was "looking into the claims that there is a disparity in remuneration from one sub-section to the other".

Today the company also said it had arranged four 50-seater buses to transport workers, and plans to procure more.

Since the strike began the company has also taken to Twitter to assert its concern for worker safety, health and welfare. It has made no statement on the 18 December fatalities via social media.

The Nairobi-Navaisha SGR is part of Kenya’s grand plan for a railway stretching from its commercial and port hub of Mombasa all the way to its landlocked neighbours, through Nairobi. The Chinese-built Mombasa-Nairobi leg opened to great fanfare in May 2017.

After Navaisha, the line will extend to the Uganda border.

The contract to build the leg running northeast from Nairobi was awarded to CCCC in March 2016, but it has been the subject of local tension. In August that year the Kenyan government halted work on the Nairobi-Navaisha line when locals angry about not getting jobs attacked Chinese workers.

Last month Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta said he wanted the Nairobi-Navaisha line finished by June 2019.

Top image: CRBC has taken to Twitter to assert its concern for worker safety, health and welfare on the Nairobi-Navaisha rail project (CRBC via Twitter)

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  1. Just a point of geography, the last time I drove from Nairobi to the Ugandan border it was in a north westerly direction through Navaisha not north easterly as described in the article.

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