The hard reality of the deplorable working conditions at the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) was laid bare before a committee of the Senate on Thursday.
Labour Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yattani revealed cases of discriminations, intimidation and outright segregation policies pitting the migrant Chinese workers on one hand and the locals on the other.
Mr Yattani told the committee of Labour, which is investigating claims of racism at SGR, that even though the China Bridge and Roads Construction Company, which operates the line, has a well drawn and detailed human resources policy manual, its implementation and compliance with the labour laws and the constitution is not clear.
He revealed to the committee, chaired by Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja, that SGR work stations are not registered as required by the Occupational Safety and Health Act which had exposed the workers to health hazards and risks.
“There is a general inadequacy in the provision of personal protective equipment especially in the track maintenance, gantry cranes and freight departments,” Mr Yattani said, pointing out that even though there are designated smoking zones in all the work stations, Chinese workers do not use them.
“This has led to exposure of workers to cigarette smoke. There is an inadequate supply of wholesome drinking water to local workers,” he said, while pointing out that work permits for migrant Chinese workers were not availed for verification except residency visas.
The committee is probing claims of mistreatment and discrimination of Kenyans working with the SGR after claims of racism emerged.
The claims were first reported in the local media after which the CS appointed a committee on July 12 to investigate the claims and the committee accomplished the task and filed a report presenting preliminary findings to the CS.
However, Mr Yattani told the committee that due to time constraints, the investigators were unable to get to the bottom of the claims but promised to constitute another team to conduct a labour audit of the SGR to verify claims.
“While the Chinese workers have eateries in every work station, locals do not have this provision,” Mr Yattani said.
He added that while employees have transport allowance those who work for long hours and far removed areas stations are greatly inconvenienced because there is no provision for transport.
With regard to their employment contracts, local workers complained that it was not clear who their employer is.