On 20-22 August a workshop held by the IUF Global Sugar Program successfully finalise a two-year project on Occupational Safety and Health with the Kenya Union of Sugar Plantation Agricultural Workers Union (KUSPAW), which focused on the policy and political aspects of safety and health, moving the union towards a meaningful engagement with management on the running of the sugar enterprises in the country.
Over the life of the project, the IUF Sugar activities developed two main aspects. First at all, was the empowerment of union members on OSH matters and, secondly, the development of skills to articulate policy proposals and long-term action plans to improve OSH conditions in the sugar workplaces.
Empowering workers and union leaders was based on field work that took guided visits to farm and factory operations to observe the work performed by workers and the environment in which it was executed. The visits were followed by a systematic discussion of the observations which identified hazards and risks. It was then only logical to follow up with proposing sensible solutions to such OSH issues. The practicality of such solutions was strengthened by the knowledge the workers have of the work they perform and the conditions in which they labour.
A second aspect of empowerment was that union members were challenged to research specific OSH issues at their own workplaces. Three steps were taken: (a) clear identification of the OSH issue at hand, (b) review of related literature and documents and the interviewing of the workers performing such task, and (c) identifying solutions, which ranged from the replacement of hazardous materials to basic structural improvements.
The empowerment process was a strong basis for engaging management in relation to improving OSH conditions. In other words, this was an example of how Social Dialogue ought to be implemented at workplaces, and clearly showed the effective partnership between the IUF Sugar and KUSPAW when preparing and empowering our members, while educating the social partners in Social Dialogue and OSH policies.
From the realm of the individual workplaces, the IUF Sugar Program and KUSPAW moved to the political sphere. The challenge was to articulate a policy position, along with an Action Plan to guide the union’s OSH future work. Several drafts of the policy documents were produced and discussed in several workshops, allowing the full participation of the union branches in a truly participatory and inclusive bottom-to-top process. Three policy documents were produced, which have been compiled in one publication: Statement of Principles on Occupation Safety and Health, Policy and Action Plan. Creating Decent Jobs in Kenya’s Sugar Sub-Sector.
KUSPAW became the only union within the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (COTU-K) to produce a sector-wide OSH policy, following the stipulations of OSH 2007. Next is the full implementation of KUSPAW OSH Action Plan.
As trade unions, the IUF Sugar Program and KUSPAW didn’t forget the need to continuously organise and represent workers. As a result of this project, tangible results can be seen in several of the country’s sugar estates: from the building of new ablution blocks to investments in equipments to the exploring of alternative and less hazardous materials to the ones currently in use; all of these improve OSH conditions for everyone involved in a workplace. Also, being a right of workers to work in safe and healthy conditions, IUF Sugar and KUSPAW used this as an organising tool. In 2007, there were six union branches, which went up to 11 in 2014, with two more branches currently awaiting registration. KUSPAW was organisationally strengthened as a result of this project.
And, finally, OSH to mobilise workers and the community. For the first time in the history of the Kenyan sugar sector, April 28, the Workers’ Memorial Day, was observed.. The activity held at the Nzoia estate included a workshop and a march along the road leading to the Nzoia factory.
The IUF 26th Congress in 2012 went with the motto of Organise, Fight and Win. The OSH work by IUF Sugar and KUSPAW shows indeed that when the unions win, everybody else also does.
The IUF Global Sugar project in Africa is generously supported by the Social Justice Fund of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW). The CAW and CEP created Unifor, Canada’s largest union in the private sector, in August 2013.
Documents on the IUF Sugar/KUSPAW work on Occupational Safety and Health.
- KUSPAW- Statement of Principles on Occupation Safety and Health, Policy and Action Plan. Creating Decent Jobs in Kenya’s Sugar Sub-Sector.
- Occupational Safety and Health Issues in Kenya’s Sugar Sub-Sector. An exercise by KUSPAW members on researching, discussing and finding alternatives to workplace hazards and risks.
- Statement by participants at an IUF Sugar and KUSPAW Workshop on Occupational Safety and Health in Kenya’s Sugar sub-sector. 20-22 August 2014. Kisumu, Kenya.