As a result of a truly inclusive process, which started in September 2007 and has involved about one hundred KUSPAW grass-root members, the workshop held from November 4-6, gathered thirteen delegates from KUSPAW branches to hear reports on research conducted by KUSPAW members and to discuss two main OSH union documents, which have been under production for almost 18 months. The IUF Global Sugar Program and the Kenya Union of Sugar Plantation and Allied Workers (KUSPAW) have moved to a higher level of involvement on Occupation Safety and Health (OSH).
Research and Policy documents
A challenging step was taken in 2012 when KUSPAW members volunteered to do basic research on OSH specific issues at their workplaces. Quite evidently, their strongest contribution are the an increased factual knowledge of local conditions, coupled with the development of skills to research experiences in the international sugar sector and to collect relevant information from the Internet. The workshop heard reports on the use of lead sub-acetate in the laboratories of Chemelil and West Kenya (including the identification of less hazardous substitutes of lead sub-acetate); about industrial noise in Mumias and on malaria in Nzoia. (Complementing these efforts, was a review of the
situation of women workers in Nzoia, which has been featured on this site. See Kenya: Women Workers at the Nzoia Sugar Company.)
A second important development are the OSH union documents. Since early 2012, the IUF Global Sugar Program and KUSPAW have been consistently working on these policy documents, which were reviewed and discussed by the workshop. One is untitled “Statement of Principles on OSH”; the other “OSH Policy and Action Plan.” The former is the basic message succinctly explaining to members and other sugar stakeholders what the union stands for when OSH conditions in the sugar sector are under discussion. The latter develops such principles in the daily work of the union and its different instances.
The workshop closes one phase in this years-long process, and opens a new one. It is expected that 2014 will see a national meeting where KUSPAW members will present their final findings on their research, and the OSH documents will be formally adopted by KUSPAW as guidance in their OSH work, and will be introduced to other sugar stakeholders.
The relevance of this work
KUSPAW is proud of being the only union from the Central Organisation of Trade Unions, COTU (K), developing an OSH approach for an entire economic sector, cane growing and sugar manufacturing in this case. It is also, from this writer experience, the only stakeholder in Kenya’s sugar sector who has embarked on a such a broad undertaking, going beyond the OSH policies of individual companies, and attempting to “domesticate” – as the Kenyans like to say – the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 2007 in the sugar sector and in each of the sugar estates and factories across the country.
In the process, KUSPAW has strengthened itself. The bottom-to-top process included field visits to farm and factory operations, observations and workshop discussions, as well as sensible recommendations to all parties involved to make a workplace safer and healthier. The impact of this joint IUF Sugar/KUSPAW work, was once again witnessed in visits to Nzoia and Muhoroni sugar estates.
In a meeting with KUSPAW national leadership, the IUF Sugar coordinator also discussed next year’s project activities, which include using the Study Circles to further disseminate the OSH work, and to engage other stakeholders in a sector-wide discussion of OSH conditions. These steps gain further relevance as the Kenya’s sugar sector is about to face two challenges: one is the possibility of ending the so-called COMESA sugar safeguards, which the regional block has kept in place for the past eight years to allow the Kenyan sugar sector to adjust to an open regional market (albeit the smuggling of what is deemed to be inexpensive Brazilian sugar appears to continue unabated), and the privatisation process of the four sugar paraestatals (Nzoia, Chemelil, Muhoroni and South Nyanza or SONY), which has been on the table for several years. From the IUF Sugar viewpoint, this OHS work is an example of how the IUF agenda of Organise, Fight and Win (OFW) gets implemented in the sugar sector.