As drought continues to ravage lower Eastern counties with water scarcity being a thorn in the flesh, the fate of the only region’s hope continues to fade off as workers paralyze operations in the multi-billion Thwake dam for the 11th day today.
The sh. 63 billion dam which is made to alleviate the regions’ economic status now hangs on balance with the workers blaming both the dam’s main contractor China Ghezouba Group and several other sub-contracted companies for what they term as unfavorable working conditions and underpayment.
The over 350 employees, both skilled and unskilled laborers laid down their tools on Thursday while protesting low wages, poor hygiene conditions with the Chinese blamed over racial segregation, lack of drinking water for employees, and Chinese bosses molesting Kenyan employees.
The irritated workers engaged anti-riot police in running battles for the better part of Thursday, Friday and Saturday morning with a number of them arrested and freed later. They accused police of brutality and blocking them from channeling their grievances.
“These sub-contractors have brokered the works and they end up paying very little with unnecessary sackings. They are paying us sh. 411 per day while the main contractor knows we are paid sh. 800 which is very minimal”, said Samuel Mutuku, a striking worker.
They also complained of their safety in the site saying they are not provided with drinking water while at work with circumstances forcing them to drink contaminated water from River Athi.
A spot check across the site on Sunday found that the employees have been going for call of nature in the bush and along river banks with the Chinese and other bosses only allowed to use the few toilets dug in the construction site.
The striking workers confirmed their fears of contracting water borne diseases with the Chinese leading in racial discrimination.
“These Chinese use abusive language whenever a misunderstanding ensues. They kick employees and chase them like dogs. What’s paining us most is if you have to urinate or defecate you have to do it in the bush, you just close your eyes and assist yourself, why?, the Chinese don’t allow to share toilets with Africans and they have not shown interest of digging toilets for us any time soon though they have all equipment around”, added Mutuku.
A source privy to how Chinese companies operations disclosed that before commencing construction of any project they drill water and toilets but it remained unclear why they had decided otherwise at Thwake.
Joshua Mutinda, another worker complained of not getting offs toattend to their family matters and if one dares to be absent you are sacked through word of mouth without a warning.
Some of the companies sub-contracted by the main contractor includes: China Civil Engineering Company, China Railway, Sinoma, China Roads and Bridge Company, Perma and Sparrow Business systems Company among others.
Efforts to seek answers from the main contractor was futile.
A source said a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) was what the workers were pushing for but it required inputs of a trade union.
The dam’s construction has recently been marred with glitches.
In the recent past, a stand-off ensued between the contractor building the dam and the three Ukambani governors on the formula to sharing sh.11 billion worthy of business opportunities arising from the sh. 36.9 Billion dam which is first phase of the sh. 63 billion mega dam.
This remains unclear if it was resolved.
However, a month ago, the National Assembly’s Committee on Water, Environment and Natural Resources led by Maara MP Kareke Mbiuki toured Thwake dam and noted that the dam was trailing in time and might not be completed before 2022 as planned. He complained of poor resource mobilization.
If these factors and the striking workers are something to go by, then the dam might take a longer period than the expected 5-years of the phase 1.