Kenya: Paralysing Strike Forces Closure of Nzoia Factory

Posted to the web 8 November 2007
By Mwaniki Wahome and Luke Kapchumba
The Nation (Nairobi)
Troubled Nzoia Sugar Company was on Wednesday closed indefinitely.
The move followed a strike by 200 drivers working for firms contracted to ferry sugar cane to the factory, who were demanding freedom to join a trade union.
The strike paralysed operations at the factory after efforts to find a solution failed.
The drivers also threatened to become violent if colleagues employed by the sugar miller failed to support their cause. They camped outside the main weighbridge, blocking movement of tractors to and from the factory yard. As a result, thousands of harvested sugar cane may rot on the ground if a solution is not found immediately.
Mr Macdonald Wamocho, an assistant branch secretary general of the Kenya Sugarcane Planters and Workers Union, said the union was ready to accommodate the striking drivers. The matter was awaiting the mediation efforts by the Bungoma district labour officer, he added. However, Nzoia managing director Francis Oyatsi, played down the closure, saying it would not affect the company’s performance in the long run.
He promised to later explain to journalists in detail the company’s plans to address the grievances of the striking drivers.
But Mr Wamocho said a government labour officer had spent three days trying to get a solution to the crisis without success. The drivers say they are exploited because they are not allowed to join trade unions. They also want to be insured and to receive leave allowances. They claim that despite working under harsh conditions, they are not paid risk allowances .
They vowed not to resume work unless allowed to join the factory workers’ union despite opposition from their employers, who say it would drive up their costs. The closure comes barely after a week after the company’s board of directors failed to approve a proposal by Mr Oyatsi to increase the salaries of supervisory staff.

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