BETTER WAGES

State steps in to improve seafarers lot

The Wages Council will ensure standards are set and met so as to protect the seafarers from exploitation.

In Summary

- For decades, Kenyan seafarers have been forced to work under extreme conditions with poor terms of service and undeserving pay because of a lack of a wage standard for seafarers in the country.

- However, this is set to change after the first ever stakeholders meeting was held in Mombasa to try and find ways to establish a Seafarers Sectoral Wage Council.

SRC commissioner John Monyoncho, Maritime and Shippinga Affairs PS Nancy Karigithu and KMA chairman Geoffrey Mwango at Mombasa Beach Hotel on Thursday.
SRC commissioner John Monyoncho, Maritime and Shippinga Affairs PS Nancy Karigithu and KMA chairman Geoffrey Mwango at Mombasa Beach Hotel on Thursday.
Image: JOHN CHESOLI

Kenyan seafarers could soon enjoy better salaries and working conditions freeing them from decades of bondage.

They currently work under extreme conditions with poor terms of service and undeserving pay because of a lack of a wage standard for seafarers in the country.

However, this is set to change after the first ever stakeholders meeting held in Mombasa to establish a Seafarers Sectoral Wage Council.

Kenya Maritime Authority chairman Geoffrey Mwango on Thursday said there is no clear regulatory structure for wages and employment for the sector despite Kenya being a member of the International Labour Organisation and having ratified the Maritime Labour Convention of 2006.

The convention sets out seafarers’ rights to decent conditions of work and is referred to as the ‘Seafarers’ Bill of Rights’.

“This has resulted in numerous complaints raised by seafarers most of which have not been addressed,” said Mwango.

Maritime and Shipping Affairs PS Nancy Karigithu said seafarers are the human face of the maritime sector and usually work in physically and mentally draining conditions, thus need to be well remunerated.

“We have actually been blind to the issues maybe. We are all guilty that we have not addressed this issue earlier and therefore have given space for others (to exploit Kenyan seafarers),” said Karigithu.

The PS said the seafarers receive  low wages that do not meet the internationally accepted safety nets, unreliable payment of wages, mental health issues because of working in confined spaces, long absence from home and family and fear of attacks by pirates.

The wage council will ensure standards are set and met so as to protect the seafarers from exploitation.

There are over 7,000 Kenyans seafarers subjected to different terms and conditions of service in tankers, cruise ships, fishing vessels and cargo ships.

Federation of Kenya Employers Coast regional manager Salim Mwawaza said many foreign ships have been coming to Mombasa to recruit Kenyan seafarers only to exploit them and even abandon them at sea.

The National Labour Board will be charged with the responsibility of ensuring the Wages Council is in place.

After formation of the Wages Council, the council will prepare the Wages Order.

This will now set the terms and conditions, working hours, quotations of wages, allowances and other items.

Labour CS Ukur Yatani, who was represented by acting Labour Commissioner Geoffrey Omondi, said the Labour Institutions Act of 2007 has not adequately addressed remuneration of seafarers and in the determination of minimum wages.

He said Kenyans should be encouraged to own ships as this will improve the working conditions in the shipping sector. 

“The Transport ministry should address bottlenecks that have hindered local investors from owning ships to enhance job creation in this sector which has a lot of potential,” said the CS.

Karigithu said the government is making the climate conducive and attractive for even foreigners to bring their ships to be registered in Kenya.

“A ship has no home and therefore where they are registered need not be where they are owned,” said the PS.