Kenya, Tanzania Accused of Underpaying Seafarers

Kenyan and Tanzanian shipowners are being accused of flouting labour laws and underpaying seafarers, which critics blame on the absence of sector policies.

Betty Makena, an official from the East Africa International Transport Federation (ITF) said that the organisation had received complaints from seamen working for regional shipping companies on a range of issues including wages and general welfare.

"Kenya has a higher number of complaints than Tanzania, but we are working with the relevant authorities to ensure such cases are addressed," she said.

Documents seen by The EastAfrican show that seafarers are paid between $250 and $450. This is below the $800 to $1,000 basic wages under the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) and the ITF. Seamen are also not allowed to work for more than seven months without a break. However, these guidelines apply only to vessels operating beyond East African territorial waters.

Ms Makena said that the Ministry of Transport, the Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA), the Seafarers Union of Kenya (SUK) and other stakeholders are now drafting laws including minimum wages to regulate East African-registered ships.

"Last week I handled a case where Tanzanian crew members were stranded after their employer underpaid them," she said.

SUK chairman Daudi Haji urged seamen to register with relevant departments for their terms of reference to be binding.

Mr Haji said that those working in East Africa have reported mistreatment by shipowners some of whom are not registered, with a recent case being that of 15 Kenyans who allegedly work at gunpoint in Bosaso, Somali.

"As we work to set minimum wages to improve the welfare of maritime workers, the issue of unscrupulous recruitment agencies should be addressed in other countries as we have done in Kenya where KMA has gazetted five companies to do the job," said Mr Haji.

The five companies are Mombasa Ocean Agency, Alpha Logistics, Diverse Shipping Ltd, East Africa Deep Fishing Ltd and MSC Shipping Management Agency. Any person who contravenes the law is liable to a fine of Ksh100,000 ($1,000) or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or both.

The International Labour Organisation puts the basic wage for seaman at no less than the amount periodically set by the Joint Maritime Commission, which is a bipartite body of shipowners and seafarers. In November last year, the Joint Maritime Commission subcommittee raised the minimum wage of $614 by $27 staggered over three years, starting July 1, 2019.

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