We remember the dead. We fight for the living.
On Workers’ Memorial Day unions mourn those who died in preventable accidents and those who are injured or disabled at work or suffer ill health because of their work. Workers’ Memorial Day is also to mobilise for improvements to protect the living.
The IUF Global Sugar Program and the Kenya Union of Sugar Plantation and Allied Workers (KUSPAW) have focussed on Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) matters since 2007; our small contribution to the union efforts worldwide. Our work has empowered grass-root workers and strengthened KUSPAW structures; it has included field observations and evaluation of working conditions, research on issues relevant to the daily work in sugar, sensible proposals to eliminate hazards and minimize risks at workplaces, and the formulation of the KUSPAW’ OSH principles and Action Plan.
This April 2014, the IUF Sugar and KUSPAW will develop a week-long OSH program in the provinces of Western and Nyanza, Kenya’s sugar belt. From April 22-25, meetings with union members have been scheduled in the sugar estates of Chemelil, Muhoroni, South Nyanza (SONY), West Kenya and Mumias; they will be an occasion to introduce KUSPAW’ OSH principles and Action Plan. On April 28, we will hold our main activity at the Nzoia Sugar Company, with a program that highlights the joint work to improve safety and health conditions in sugar and includes an awareness-raising demonstration.
Occupational Safety and Health ought to be placed at the core of the current restructuring of Kenya’s sugar sector. On one hand, it is expected that in February 2015 the “safeguards” that COMESA, the Common Market for Easter and Southern Africa, has granted Kenya’s sugar for the past 10 years will end. (The safeguards protect the domestic sector while increased competitiveness is achieved, in advance to the opening of the domestic market to imports from other COMESA members.) On the other, there’s a call to privatise five sugar companies (out of the ten currently listed). It is imperative that the restructuring and privatisation take OSH as integral part in the decision-making process. For instance, qualified bidders in the privatisation process – those potential sugar owners – should be companies with a record of effective OSH programs, as to provide guarantees to the country that efficiency and competitiveness will not be the result of preventable deaths, injuries and disabilities of sugar workers.
The activities are part of the IUF Sugar/KUSPAW joint work that benefits some 15,000 sugar workers, their families and sugar-dependent communities, and are supported by the Social Justice Fund of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW-SJF).
 In August 2013, the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) and the Communication Energy and Paper Workers (CEP) formed Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector union.