The Kenyan government has initiated a process to end maritime slavery by reviewing seafarers' pay and working agreements which has not been done for almost three decades.
The move to develop new laws and regulations to govern the sector is aimed at ending extreme poor working conditions of more than 7,000 registered seafarers.
The new agreement will ensure all seafarers are paid the recommended salary according to the International Labour Organization (ILO) minimum pay of Ksh85,000 ($850) as opposed to the current Ksh18,000 ($180) a month.
STRIVING FOR GIVE BETTER TERMS
Maritime and Shipping Affairs Principal Secretary Nancy Karigithu said seafarers are the human face of the maritime sector and usually work in physically and mentally draining conditions. Thus, she said, they need to be well remunerated.
"As we work to make gains on a number of Blue Economy projects in the country, thousands of seafarers who are subjected to different terms and conditions of service in tankers, cruise ships, fishing vessels and cargo ships need to be motivated, that is why we are working on these regulations," said Ms Karigithu.
"Most vessel owners have taken advantage of the government's laxity of not developing and implementing minimum salary pay to exploit seafarers not only in Kenya but also in other East African countries."
The government, she noted, is at an advanced stage in setting up Seafarers Sectoral Wage Council to check on the implementation of the set salary structure in order to attract more people to the sea employment.
The CS said there is need to set internationally accepted safety nets, reliable payment wages and ensure seafarers work with recommended eight hours a day, unless they are paid over time.
Ms Karigithu said hurdles preventing local investors from owning ships should be urgently addressed in order to create more sea jobs.
"The Transport ministry should address bottlenecks that have hindered local investors from owning ships to enhance job creation in this sector which has a lot of potential," she said.
"The government is making the environment conducive and attractive for even foreigners to bring their ships to be registered in Kenya."
Many foreign ships have been coming to Mombasa to recruit Kenyan seafarers only to exploit them and even abandon them at sea.
The National Labour Board will be charged with ensuring the Wages Council is in place. The council will prepare wage order, setting the terms and conditions, working hours, quotations of wages, allowances and other items.
Acting Labour Commissioner Geoffrey Omondi said the Labour Institutions Act of 2007 has not adequately addressed remuneration of seafarers and determination of minimum wages.
Mr Omondi said there is no clear regulatory structure of wages and employment for the sector despite Kenya being a member of the ILO which stipulates decent working conditions for its members.
The ILO provides provision of seafarers' wages, hours of work and manning of ships.
The regulations recommend that the basic pay or wages for a calendar month of service "for an able seaman" should be no less than the amount periodically set by the Joint Maritime Commission, which is a body of shipowners and seafarers established by ILO.
The terms apply to all seafarers including those employed in the hotel industry, passenger service and on cruise ships and commercial yachts.
East Africa shipowners have been accused of flouting labour laws governing employment of seafarers with Kenya leading in such reported cases, followed closely by Tanzania.
An increasing number of cases where Kenya and Tanzania ship-owners mistreat seamen and failing to meet their welfare has pushed the government to reignite a process -- that had initially stalled -- of developing regulations to bring sanity in the industry.
Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) and International Transport Federation (ITF) basic wages guidelines apply only to foreign going vessels, not those operating coastwise or within East African territorial waters.
Among the safety nets the government has taken to end maritime slavery include gazetting companies to recruit seafarers. The firms authorised include Mombasa Ocean Agency, Alpha Logistics, Diverse Shipping Limited, East Africa Deep Fishing Limited and MSC Shipping Management Agency.
The Kenya Maritime Authority warns any firm found recruiting seafarers and is not gazetted to do so contravenes the law and is liable to a fine of Ksh100,000 ($1,000) or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or both.
More than 500 seafarers graduate with different skills in Kenya and many have remained jobless, becoming easy prey for shipowners seeking cheap labour.