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Blue Nile: Atwoli Slammed as Workers’ Woes Take Centre Stage

Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU) Secretary-General Francis Atwoli has come under fire from numerous Kenyans

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The tragedy of Caleb Otieno, who fell into a vat of molten steel at Blue Nile Rolling Mills in Thika in March, has sparked an employment row bringing to the fore concerns of workers in Kenya.

The family of Otieno feels they have been denied justice after the company gave them a Ksh100,000 payment and an offer for them to receive Ksh7,000 a month – one third of Otieno’s salary – for five years totaling Ksh420,000. The family has announced plans to move to court.

Meanwhile, Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU) Secretary-General Francis Atwoli has come under fire from numerous Kenyans, particularly online, for the union’s loud silence on the matter. While Atwoli and Cotu have addressed other issues including spearheading an ongoing push for an increase of the minimum wage this year, they are yet to issue a statement on the case which captured national attention and has the worker’s family scrambling for support.

Negative sentiment against Atwoli has been further heightened by his unabated involvement in political campaigns ahead of the August polls, particularly his latest meeting with Azimio la Umoja leaders at his Kajiado home  on Sunday, April 10. His post on social media of the meeting with was met with several angry responses from Kenyans who highlighted the Otieno incident, accusing Cotu of being unresponsive to workers’ issues.

Explaining what they had gone through since Otieno’s passing, his father Martin Oraro told Nation: “The company offered me Sh100,000, and when I asked them about the compensation, the HR manager told me that they would compensate me with a third of Sh21,000 that my son was earning per month for the five years he worked as a permanent employee. That is the last thing I heard from the company.”

“They told me this would translate to Sh7,000 per month. When my other son, John Agwambo, did the calculations, we realised the compensation would be Sh420,000 for all the five years he worked there as a permanent employee, yet it is safety negligence at the company that made my son die. We felt ridiculed and denied justice.”

Caleb Otieno was 34. His family laid to rest three small sacks which were retrieved, containing a few joint bones and some teeth.

Blue Nile Rolling Mills Ltd is owned by owned by Blue Nile Group, as is its sister company Blue Nile Wire Products Ltd, a manufacturer of barbed wire. It recently announced that it had received Ksh862 million from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank’s private lending arm, to fund its expansion in Thika.

Atwoli has continued  to rally workers to support former Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s bid for the Presidency under the Azimio la Umoja coalition. He announced on April 9 that at least 50 unions affiliated to Cotu were also behind Azimio – among them the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) and the Kenya Electrical Traders and Allied Workers Union (KETAWU).

The union don maintained that Raila offers the best hope for Kenyan workers who desire to see their living conditions improve. He has sustained an onslaught on Odinga’s rival, Deputy President William Ruto, over alleged graft and deceit.

Sample more reactions from Kenyans aimed at Atwoli below;


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MARTIN SIELEhttps://loud.co.ke/
Martin K.N Siele is the Content Lead at Business Today. He is also a Quartz contributor and a 2021 Baraza Media Lab-Fringe Graph Data Storytelling Fellow. Passionate about digital media, sports and entertainment, Siele also founded Loud.co.ke
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