Kenya: Labour Ministry Probing SGR Workers' Racism Claims

Kenyan Minister for Transport and Infrastructure James Macharia (C) and the Managing Director of the Kenya Railways Corporation Atanas Maina (R, front) attend the reception ceremony of the first batch of locomotives for the Mombasa-Nairobi standard gauge railway in Mombasa (file photo).

Nairobi — The Ministry of Labour and Social Protection has constituted a team to look into claims of racism and discrimination at the Standard Gauge Railway's Madaraka Express train service.

While announcing the constitution of the team, to be comprised of senior ministry officials on Wednesday, Labour Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani said he expected a report in a week's time.

"Should the investigation reveal violations of any section of the Labour Laws, appropriate corrective action, including prosecution will be taken against those found culpable," Yatani assured.

The government had through its spokesperson earlier on Wednesday denied alleged discrimination of Kenyan workers by their Chinese counterparts.

Government Spokesman Eric Kiraithe however welcomed a proposal by the Central Organization of Trade Union's Secretary General Francis Atwoli to have a labour officer monitor operations at the Madaraka Express train service to look into the claims.

"Atwoli's proposal is one I'd consider sober but there're issues which can be looked at through consultations with the responsible ministry. Having a labour officer will actually give us an opportunity to have a balanced view of things," he said.

The Government Spokesman defended the railway management for executing a code of secrecy saying the document would not in any way prejudice the rights of Kenyan workers.

"A railway line is a critical infrastructure and a security installation for that matter. It would require a high level of discipline that most organizations - including airports - would require," he said

Kiraithe dismissed reports of racial discrimination of workers on the Standard Gauge Railway's Madaraka Express train service as unfounded and ill-intended telling news reporters no formal complaint had been lodged on the matter.

"Whereas the government is at hand to protect the individual rights and dignity of every Kenyan, the inward looking haki yetu (self-seeking) workplace culture has no place in the Madaraka Express, neither now, nor in future," he said.

Kiraithe said SGR train services must be run with military precision to ensure seamless operations.

"We are now running about six trains daily; when you delay one of those for 30 minutes you cripple the entire system," he observed.

The National Government Communications Center accused unnamed persons of ganging up against the SGR project saying workers who collude with the "unfriendly forces" will be dismissed.

According to Kiraithe, the government was committed to the progressive absorption of Kenyan workers to senior roles in SRG train operations with the first phase scheduled for 2020 said to be on course.

He said more Kenyans will take up prominent roles in the running of the 609 kilometre-long railway infrastructure in 2022 with the ultimate handover from China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) by 2027.

"It would be very unfortunate if after the period is over we then go out to look for expatriates because we're running multiple derailing, trains not coming on time, and them running out of fuel midway," Kiraithe remarked.

"The staff members working with people against the SGR project will have no place in Madaraka Express because we are determined to build a human resource base that will ultimately take over the responsibility of manning the trains," he added.

The SGR currently employs close to 3,000 workers with over 1,600 of them being Kenyans.

Reports of Kenyan workers being mistreated by their Chinese counterparts who are projected to be about 870 appeared on the social media recently and subsequently picked up by the mainstream media this week.

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