Chinese workers on the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) will face prosecution if allegations of their mistreatment of their Kenyan counterparts are found to be true.
Labour Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani has ordered a thorough probe into the discrimination claims that were revealed by sections of the media in recent days.
A statement from the Labour CS on Wednesday,July 11, confirmed that a team of senior officials from within the ministry has been constituted to look into the veracity of the allegations of discrimination which range from “pay disparities on the basis of race, unfair treatment, long working hours, threats, harassment, racism at work and denial of the right of association, among others.”
The identities of the individuals within the probe team — which has one week in which to conduct thorough investigations and report to CS Yatani — remain unknown.
The Labour CS said the claims, if true, violate the Labour Laws of the land and the Kenyan Constitution. “These allegations point to violation of Labour Laws and offend Article 41 of the Constitution of Kenya,” he said.
Those found culpable will face “corrective action, including prosecution” according to the Labour minister’s statement.
The former Marsabit Governor also indicated that he was left with no choice as his ministry is charged with enforcing labour laws in the country and safeguard the safety and health of workers at their workplaces.
CS Yatani’s statement comes days after an investigative piece in the Standard newspaper exposed a series of discrimination accusations leveled by Chinese workers against their Kenyan counterparts inside the SGR workforce.
The report claimed that Chinese and Kenyan workers do not share the same tables at meal times, cannot travel in the same work van and are subject to different sets of rules aboard the SGR. Chinese workers for example face no recriminations if they smoke or use their mobile phones while on the train coaches whereas Kenyans could be fired for engaging in such excesses, the Standard report claimed.
Accusations of environmental malpractice were also revealed, as the expose alleged that wildlife was on the receiving end of the snaking SGR, with lions and buffaloes being killed along the track that passes through the Tsavo National Park. This despite environmentalists initially contesting the route the SGR was to take, reservations that fell on deaf ears.
Since then, the Senate has summoned the Kenya Railways management, CS Yatani and Transport CS James Macharia to answer questions as to the allegations.
On Wednesday, the government seemed to downplay the allegations, telling Kenyans to bear with the Chinese and appreciate the good work they were doing.
Government spokesperson Eric Kiraithe told journalists that Kenyan staff should specifically identify their harassers. “We have put all measures to deal with these issues, but if you are a Kenyan who claim to have mistreated and you have not reported to police and have not reported to Fida, then you have to.”
He also blamed unnamed persons whom he accused of being detractors who are out to slow down the Vision 2030 flagship project.
The former police spokesperson also defended the China Road and Bridge Corporation — the firm responsible for building and operating the SGR — by saying that the killing of wildlife was not intentional.