Update 19 March
The immediate crisis is over as unions show solidarity and drivers return to work. However, the dispute is not resolved. Please sign the letter to Agility.
An imminent crisis is looming as massed, armed Kenyan riot police make ready to attack truck drivers peacefully gathered near the towns of Kanaan and Mai Mahiu.
The drivers, who work for Kuwait-based Agility Logistics, are protesting against enforced driving shifts of up to 24 hours and the company’s refusal to recognise their chosen trade union. In an entirely peaceful protest they have refused to drive until Agility acts to improve conditions.
The peaceful nature of their action has also been confirmed in a phone conversation between one of the company’s managers and the ITF Africa regional secretary Joe Katende.
Despite this, this weekend they were attacked while sleeping in their cabs, waking to have guns pushed in their faces by police supplied with spare keys by managers. Swearing, threatening and yelling, the police at Mai Mahiu ordered them onto the road. At Kanaan in Voi, a similar move by police was only defeated by the local community, who rallied around the drivers.
Today the forces are being heavily reinforced with further armed riot police in protective equipment. A further attack on the drivers is clearly imminent unless halted by national and international pressure on the authorities and the company.
Katende has been working non-stop to assist both the labour ministry and the union to see how best to resolve the standoff amicably. He stated: “Kenya came very close to seeing innocent blood being shed on the weekend. There is no doubt that if the police go in again today the way they did before, then the country will see serious injuries, maybe deaths. It is shameful to see them acting practically as mercenaries, especially as there had been neither an act nor threat of violence.
“Matters are at crisis point. The CEO of Agility Logistics must use his influence to get the police reined in. The authorities must pull them back. What happens will not be a secret. The ITF is dedicated to exposing what is going on to the world. Kenya’s journalists are already on site. With enough pressure and exposure Kenya can prevent lives being lost.”
Reporting on a discussion this morning with Kenya’s cabinet secretary of labour, Katende said that it is clear that the ministry is committed to ensuring that social dialogue, on which Kenya’s industrial relations are built, is given a chance – despite the use of court orders, which are hampering resolution. Ministry officials, he said, who have been engaged by the ITF regional office at its headquarters and on site, have shown great interest in assisting the workers and the employer in achieving a settlement.
The ITF is contacting Agility Logistics today to get it to use its influence to avoid bloodshed, and will be calling on leaders of the world’s road and rail trade unions meeting in London this week to support their Kenyan colleagues.
Joe Katende continued: “Representatives of the world’s biggest trade unions will be at the ITF in London this week and mobilising support for their endangered colleagues will be their number one priority. The Kenyan government will be made to listen to their concerns before more brutality is committed.”
The ITF has launched a LabourStart appeal through which people can send the following protest to the CEO of Agility Logistics:
“I am outraged to that learn that Kenya truckers protesting over unacceptable and unsafe working conditions were this weekend beaten, abducted and forced at gunpoint to drive their vehicles.
As CEO of one of the world’s leading logistics providers, we urge you to intervene and ensure brutal attacks by Kenya’s police cease immediately and to enter into negotiations with the Kenya Long Distance Truck Drivers & Allied Workers Union (KLDTDAWU) to resolve the matter.”
The ITF-affiliated Transport Ministry Workers’ Union of Kuwait has already contacted the company to urge it to start dialogue and to protest against its attitude.
This is how one of the drivers described the attack on the weekend, when he was forced to drive to the company workshop:
“After abducting me inside my cabin at around 12.15 am, the workshop manager commanded police and the policeman pointed his gun at me and ordered me to drive non-stop at not less than 80 KPH in full lights and with hazard lights on all along the highway to Gigiri Police station in Nairobi. This made me feel that road safety was not their concern, but their wealth. Later after they took us to the company workshop in Mulolongo and chased us away at around 3 AM in a criminal-infested area, I knew they wanted us dead.”