MOMBASA, Kenya (Reuters) - A strike at Kenya’s port of Mombasa entered its second day on Friday despite an agreement on paper between the union and management, leaving loading and unloading at East Africa’s main trade gateway at a standstill.
Mombasa handles imports such as fuel for Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia.
Labour unrest has become more frequent across east Africa’s biggest economy this year following steep prices increases.
The industrial action comes ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections due next March, and add to that of teachers, university lecturers and doctors have also staged strikes to demand better pay and working conditions this year.
The strike also inconvenienced passengers and tourists at the coastal strip popular with Kenyan and foreign holidaymakers. Tourists hoping to get to the main airport in the coast region from beach luxury resorts in the south coast were left stranded.
Leaders of the striking union said they had agreed in principle with the port’s management to issue employment letters to end the strike by casual workers who are demanding permanent jobs.
“We were in a meeting in which we signed a return to work formula, and among the conditions is that management will issue letters to all the 3,500 workers before they go back to work,” Simon Sang, secretary general of the dock workers union said.
“We have checked and indeed the letters are being prepared. They have told us it will take at least nine hours for all the letters to be ready.”
Bernard Osero, the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) corporate affairs manager, said issuing letters to the striking workers would take some hours because they were many.
Dockside work remained paralysed. Workers chanted slogans outside the port’s main offices, punching their fists in the air, saying they would only resume work after receiving the job offer letters.
The industrial action in Kenya’s second-largest city spread after Kenya Ferry Services workers, who belong to the same union representing the port workers, also went on strike over pay.
Their strike blocked trucks carrying fuel and goods, and office workers from the coastal mainland who were trying to get to work on Mombasa island.
Traders who ferry fish, fruits, vegetables and other foods to Mombasa were unable to commute across the sea channel. The nearest alternative route into the island would require a detour of about 80 km.
Hundreds of tonnes of cargo piled up at the port.
“We arrived here yesterday morning to collect containers destined for Rwanda, but there is nobody to load them on the trucks. We just spent the night out here in the cold,” said Colyns Mutua, a long distance truck driver.
Writing by James Macharia, editing by William Hardy