Striking workers at the multi-billion Thwake dam project on the border of Makueni and Kitui counties have been ordered to report to work or face summary dismissal.
The tough decision was reached after hours of negotiations between the workers’ representatives and top officials of the China Gezhouba Group who are building the dam.
The meeting, which lasted for three hours, had been called to iron out a pay dispute and other grievances.
It was chaired Makueni County Commissioner Maalim Mohammed at the dam site and sought to resolve the labour dispute that saw workers down their tools last week.
A return to work formula for the more than 900 workers including truck drivers, artisans and casuals, was agreed upon with the contractor promising to address their pay and welfare concerns.
But Mr Mohammed warned the workers that as their grievances are being addressed, their strike action is illegal and whoever fails to report to work will be sacked.
“There was no strike notice as required by the labour laws and the strike is therefore unlawful,” he told journalists after the meeting also attended by a team of supervising engineers from the Ministry of Water and the project’s consultants.
He also warned against political incitement by some leaders regarding the project, saying that stern action will be taken against any person found intimidating workers intending to report to work.
“The government will not allow anyone to disrupt operations at the project site and police will be deployed to provide adequate security for workers resuming duty,” Mr Mohammed said.
He noted that Thwake dam is one of the key Vision 2030 water projects which has taken off without corruption scandals that rocked similar projects and that land compensation for the affected households had been concluded without hitches.
China Gezhouba Project Manager Xiong Wentao said some of the issues raised by the workers were as a result of language barriers and would be addressed to ensure the smooth running of the project.
The workers complained about meagre pay and poor working conditions including dust at the site, lack of clean drinking water, lack adequate toilets and transport from their residential areas, which the contractor promised to address.
Speaking through a translator, Mr Wentao said the rates paid to Thwake dam workers are those approved by the Kenyan government and that the firm had provided protective clothing.
“We shall continue operating within the Kenyan laws and cooperate with the community by providing two access roads to the river for the residents besides watering them twice a day to reduce dust,” assured Mr Wentao.