Joe Macharia on improving conditions for workers in Chinese multinationals in Kenya

25 July 2018 19:34

Joe Macharia, Assistant General Secretary of the Kenyan union KBCTFIEU*, is sharing his experience in organizing workers in the China Communication Construction Company (CCCC) – a Chinese multinational company that has been contracted to build the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) between the cities of Mombasa and Nairobi. With a cost of US$3.6 billion, the construction of the SGR railway is Kenya’s most expensive infrastructure project since independence and it employs over 10 000 workers.

How would you describe the union's relationship with the China Communication Construction Company?

The union has had to use the dispute resolution procedure all the way to industrial court to attain a recognition agreement and a Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2007. Ever since there is mutual respect from both parties and the Union has been able to review subsequent collective agreements with the company in their different projects.

How do you handle trade disputes arising from the company?

We have a full-time union organizer for each section of the company’s project with the role of organizing, recruitment and dispute resolution. Under the organizer, we have department shop stewards and the chief shop steward. Any dispute that cannot be resolved by the department shop steward is forwarded to the chief shop steward. If a dispute is not resolved by him then it is forwarded to the organizers who if not able to resolve can forward a dispute to the Branch secretary and or head office. Most of the disputes are resolved even before they reach to the Branch secretary.

Do you have challenges in dealing with the company relating to labour matters?

There are different challenges in the different sections of the projects. While in general there is a good working relation with CCCC, there are different companies working under the main contractor.

In your opinion are there best practices that can be duplicated by other trade unions organizing Chinese MNCs?

Being in touch constantly with workers has given the union strength and popularity among workers and hence respect from the employers. It is not enough to just have a collective agreement, the key is to constantly monitor its implementation.

What action have you taken to improve the occupational health and safety at the work sites?

We have raised the problem of workers lacking protective equipment and other safety issues among subcontractors at the project. The main challenge is the fact that the company is required by law to give some jobs to subcontractors to do jobs like slope protections, landscaping, calvert sections etc that also engages many employees. This is the main challenge for the union. The company has now written a letter to all their subcontractors urging them to observe Kenya law on Occupational Health and Safety.

* KBCTFIEU stands for the Kenya Building, Construction, Timber, and Furniture Industries Employees Union