* Port is main trade gateway to east African region
* 3,500 workers down tools to demand permanent jobs
* Loading and unloading of ships halted by strike
By Joseph Akwiri
MOMBASA, Kenya, Nov 1 An indefinite strike by
more than half of the workers at Kenya's main port of Mombasa on
Thursday has paralysed dockside work at east African region's
main trade gateway, union and management officials said.
The port, the biggest in the region, handles imports such as
fuel for Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan, eastern
Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia.
The union said 3,500 workers, most of whom are loaders, and
had worked at the port for between 15 and 20 years on casual and
contractual basis, went on strike demanding permanent jobs.
"The most affected area is the operations section which
deals with cranes and ships, and that is our core area," said
Bernard Osero, the port corporate affairs manager.
The port employs about 6,000 workers in Mombasa, he said.
The workers, in aprons and reflective jackets, camped
outside the port head offices in Mombasa, chanting slogans and
waved banners, while import-loaded cargo ships waited.
Simon Sang, secretary general of the dock workers union said
the management had agreed earlier this year to employ the casual
workers by October 31 but this had not yet happened, prompting
the industrial action.
The union leaders and port management said loading and
unloading at the port were at a total standstill.
"We don't want any more meetings and negotiations because we
already did that, what we want are the (employment) letters,
otherwise we will not go back to work," Sang told reporters.
Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) Managing Director Gichiri Ndua
arrived from a trip to the capital Nairobi and went straight
into a meeting with leaders of the striking workers.
The port handled 10.7 million tonnes of cargo over the
first-half of this year, up 24 percent from 2011. The traffic is
usually an indicator of economic activity in the region.
The port of Mombasa serves its wide hinterland with imports
that include oil, clinker which is used to make cement, steel,
bitumen for road construction and second-hand cars, while the
main exports include tea, coffee, and horticulture goods.
"We had carried 1,283 units of vehicles to be discharged
here at Mombasa, we only discharged 800, and had to stop because
of the strike," said Richard Bataanon, a Philippines national
and seaman in charge of MV Delphinus Leader, which had
originated from Japan with its cargo of vehicles
"We can't discharge the 400 remaining and this is eating up
our time because we are heading to Durban in South Africa. We
will wait until we are able to discharge before we proceed with
our journey," he said.
"We hope the port will not charge us demurrage fees because
this is not our fault."
Labour unrest has become more frequent across east Africa's
biggest economy this year ahead of presidential and
parliamentary elections due next March.
Teachers, university lecturers and doctors have also staged
strikes to demand better pay and working conditions this year.
(Writing by James Macharia, editing by William Hardy)