By Samuel Ouma
China’s ambassador to Kenya Sun Baohong has denied that local workers on the Standard Gauge Railway project are undergoing severe mistreatment in the hands of their Chinese masters.
Addressing the press on Friday, Baohong attributed the alleged inhumane treatment to disparity in culture and language. She rebuffed the reporters published in one of the locals newspaper about harsh treatment by Chinese workers saying it was misleading and inaccurate. She attributed the acts captured in photos to a team building process.
“We will continue to work with the Kenyan Government. We don’t think there is any racism. The things in the pictures are a build-up to team work. We do that every day,” she reiterated.
It was revealed that Kenyans working at the new-built multi-billion infrastructure are undergoing racism, poor salaries and job insecurity, information that caused public uproar. It was alleged majority of Kenyan workers pocket less than a quarter of what Chinese earn, Chinese have programmed their equipment in their language forcing Kenyans to work as security guards and cleaners despite being recruited as engineers, drivers and technicians. In addition Kenyans are not allowed in ride in the same staff van with Chinese, they are prohibited from sharing the same table with them at the staff cafeteria and aimless sacking of Kenyan workers and replaced by the Chinese.
Railway and Allied Workers Union Secretary General John Chumo confirmed the report saying he has been receiving complaints from local staff over acts of discrimination against them. Chumo exposed that local locomotive drivers earn Ksh.30, 000 ($300) while their Chinese counterparts are paid Ksh.100, 000 ($1000).
“I have received many complaints from the local staff especially locomotive drivers who said they have been facing discrimination from the management of Standard Gauge Railway. But when I called the human resource manager he dismissed the claims as not true,” said Chumo.
China Roads and Bridges Corporation (CRBC) had refuted the mistreatment claims. The company said that it had established an intimate relationship with the local workers in three decades it has operated in Kenya. The company further dismissed the number of workers stated in the article stating it has only 2,136 Chinese and 13,482 Kenyan workers. The paper indicated 841 Chinese and 2,679 Kenyans are employed at SGR.
Government Spokesperson Eric Kiraithe faulted local workers of their work ethic. He challenged them to learn how things are done instead of complaining on media. He noted that SGR case is one of the clashes of cultures, saying challenges cannot be solve through mass media. However, he assured them of government’s protection against any form of discrimination.
“Inward looking, our right centered personalities have no place in this kind of profession. They are the first crop of Kenyans employed on this project and the culture they entrench will determine whether in less than 10 years we shall depend on them,” Kiraithe said.
While reacting to an alleged mistreatment of workers, Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU) Secretary General Francis Atwoli demanded deployment of labour officers and inspectors working in the firm. He asked SGR to allow trade unions to be part of their recruitment process. He vowed that COTU is out to free every Kenyan worker from yokes of discrimination and neo-colonialism.
“It is despicable that a Kenyan working in his or her own country could be forced to lie flat on the ground and receive all manner of punishment brutally,” reiterated COTU boss.
A team constituted by Labour Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yattani to probe the claims is yet to submit its findings. The Chinese firm was given a 10-year contract in 2017 to operate the Standard Gauge Railway.