Troubled Rift Valley Railways (RVR’s) staff in Uganda went on strike last month, leaving commuters stranded and businesses worried about their cargo yet to transported from Kenya which is holding elections next week.
Over 400 workers downed their tools on July 26 demanding to be paid their salaries for June and July amounting to about $300,000 (Ush1 billion), the employees’ union said.
The Uganda Railways Workers Union (URWU’s) secretary-general Victor Byemaro told The EastAfrican that the staff is also demanding that an internal provident fund scheme with Alexander Forbes which was introduced in 2006 when the firm took the reins be terminated immediately “because RVR could no longer sustain it”.
According to correspondence seen by The EastAfrican, the company, which runs the century-old Kenya-Uganda railway, had failed to remit money it was deducting its workers to the fund manager for the last six months.
RVR is also reported to be in arrears, since February, on contributions to the National Social Security Fund.
The Uganda staff boycott has however been overshadowed by a High Court ruling in Nairobi on July 31 that terminated its 25-year contract with Kenya Railways, the concession manager, due to RVR’s failures to meet conditions under the agreement signed in 2006.
The firm is required to hand over all concessioned assets to Kenya Railways by the end of the month.
The Nairobi ruling is seen to give impetus to Uganda Railways Corporation, the concession manager in Kampala, which has also been in the process of ending the RVR deal.
But it is RVR corporate clients and traders in Uganda that are most worried over their cargo still on Kenyan soil days before the country votes on August 8.
Ugandan traders lost their goods during the 2007/8 post-election violence.
More than 90 per cent of Ugandan bound cargo (imports) goes through Mombasa Port at the Indian Ocean.
With political temperatures and ethnic tensions rising, there are fears that the current elections could turn violent and threaten trade.
Some of the companies fearing a stock out include fuel firms Vivo Energy and City Oil, logistics firm Spedag, manufacturers Mukwano Industries, Roofings and Uganda Baati.
Efforts by The EastAfrican to obtain comments from RVR General Manager in Uganda, Joram Nyanzi, were futile as he was said to be held up in meetings.