The secretary-general of Kenya’s Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU), Francis Atwoli, says his group enjoys massive public support. COTU members, along with private sector transport operators, begin a nationwide strike Monday.
Atwoli says his group’s action is necessary to pressure the administration to reduce escalating fuel prices, which he said causes “untoward” financial hardships for workers.
“We have had support 100 percent support from every corner of the Republic of Kenya,” says Atwoli.
COTU is demanding a 30 percent reduction in the price of all petroleum products, which the group says will sharply reduce the rising cost of basic commodities and services. Atwoli says Kenyan workers are “suffocating” under the heavy burden of fuel and food price increases.
“It’s perpetual increases in basic commodities. Once the price of petrol, kerosene and diesel goes up, it ignites everything and it makes everything go up,” said Atwoli. “Our [young] factories are dying, [making products expensive], and therefore employers are terminating our members, and we are saying let government do something.”
Atwoli says workers are forced to take action because the government has not addressed their concerns.
“About two weeks ago, we wrote to the head of state [President Mwai Kibaki] to enumerate these problems,” said Atwoli. Among the problems are “issues of cartels in the sugar industry, … in the oil industry and… in strategic medicines [that make prices go up], and issues of corruption. We must deal with [them], and it must have political will [to resolve all these].”
Some Kenyans have expressed concern that the strike could cripple business activities and ultimately weaken the economy.
Critics say the move will harm Kenyans, who had to do without access to health services during a recent strike by medical professionals.
Now, they say, the strike by COTU and transport workers could make it more costly for people living in towns and cities to get to work. Atwoli denies the strike will harm Kenyans.