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The Kenya Ports Authority management on Friday promised to employ some 500 contract staff on permanent basis during a crisis meeting called to end a damaging workers’ strike.
The Kenya Ports Authority management on Friday promised to employ some 500 contract staff on permanent basis during a crisis meeting called to end a damaging workers’ strike.

Another 247 on casual terms, whose one-year contracts had expired, will be returned to work in August under new two-year contracts under the deal struck between the Dock Workers Union, management and local political leaders.

Operations at the Mombasa port container terminal were on Friday paralysed for more than eight hours during the strike called to protest planned privatisation.

The union is demanding that KPA comes clean on the privatisation plans put on hold early this year after a public uproar.

The port terminal is the heart of port operations and disruption of the schedule for a couple of hours leads to a backlog of containers on ships or on the docks awaitng export, resulting in massive losses to the port and shipping lines.

During an official function at the port on July 5, Transport minister Amos Kimunya reignited the privatisation debate when he hinted that the process would go on, a sentiment that did not go down well with the workers.

“We want the government to tell us whether the port is being sold or not because what we have seen does not relate with what KPA management is telling us. If the port is sold, more than 3000 workers will be retrenched,” union general secretary Simon Sang told workers who had gathered outside KPA headquarters.

The union also wants 3,128 workers who have been on contract and have worked for between five and 15 years to be offered permanent employment despite KPA’s freeze on recruitment of new staff a year ago.

Two MPs, Mr Ramadhan Kajembe (Changamwe) and Mr Masoud Mwahima (Likoni), as well as Mombasa mayor Ahmed Mondhar arrived at the port and said they had responded to calls by workers over failure by the management to clear the air over the matter.

Waving placards with messages demanding that Mr Kimunya, managing director Gichiri Ndua and the board of directors should resign, the workers accused the management of highhandedness and failure to listen to their grievances.

But the strike was called off in the evening after a crisis meeting between union and management, provincial administration and the political leaders.

The management agreed to immediately employ on permanent and pensionable basis some 500 senior staff, while 247 other casual whose one-year contracts had expired will be returned to work in August and under new, two-year contracts.

On the privatisation, the meeting resolved that there would be no such undertaking and communication would be made to the Transport minister to that effect. There will also be no retrenchment.

The resolutions were announced to the gathered workers by Mr Sang who was accompanied by the political leaders.

A contingent of anti-riot police who had been called to disperse the crowd kept vigil, but was later withdrawn.

Plans to sack workers

Early this year, Privatisation Commission of Kenya executive director Solomon Kitungu denied there were plans of selling the port and issued a press statement saying he was “not aware of any approved privatisation plans for Mombasa port operations.”

Privatisation of the port is expected to transform it into a landlord port where all terminal operations are handled by the private sector, which is expected to improve efficiency.

But the politicians yesterday put the MD to task over the plans, saying Mr Kimunya and his permanent secretary Cyrus Njiru had refused to engage them as well as union officials in talks over the matter.

Briefing the press at his boardroom earlier, Mr Ndua said KPA was restructuring its operations and denied that there were plans to sack workers.

“After privatisation was stopped, we have not been able to start operations at the Eldoret Container Depot where we would have employed more people so the reality is that we are denied our people opportunities,” he said.

“Berths 11 to 14 were also supposed to be reconstructed to handle containers through a private partnership but this project, which requires about Sh15 billion has also stalled since we do not have that that kind of money,” the MD added.

The transport industry was reeling in shock as the strike by port workers got underway.

According to Kenya Transport Association (KTA) chief executive officer Jane Njeru, the association members had been affected.

“This comes at a bad time considering the problems we have been facing with system breakdowns at the Kenya Revenue Authority,” added KTA secretary Imran Pasta.