NAIROBI, Kenya May 1 – Officials of the Federation of Public Service Trade Unions of Kenya (PUSETU) were barred from attending Labour Day celebrations at Uhuru Park, Nairobi where their rival union Central Organisation of Trade Unions (COTU) were presiding over the event.
The officials, accompanied by a group of their members, had tried to march to the venue when anti riot police officers sealed the entry points, saying they have “instructions to bar them.”
There was no confrontation witnessed anywhere in or around the park, due to the high police presence.
“We have instructions to ensure we don’t allow rival groups to meet, this is a COTU affair,” a senior police officer told Capital FM News from Uhuru Park, and referred us to “my seniors for any clarification.”
PUSETU Secretary General Charles Mukhwaya had vowed to go ahead with their plans to participate in the celebrations despite a court order restraining them from interfering with COTU affairs.
Mukhwaya who was accompanied by Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) Secretary General Wilson Sossion marched with their members to the teachers union offices where they urged the government to de-register COTU.
“As far as we are concerned, PUSETU is the union with the largest membership,” Sossion said, citing Labour Ministry statistics.
Mukhwaya on his part, said PUSETU will not back down from pushing for a larger representation for workers in the country. “We are the bonafide union for all workers in the country, even if COTU organizes the Labour Day celebrations, it will not stop our cause.”
COTU Secretary General Francis Atwoli has warned the government against pushing them to the wall, because they don’t want to get into politics.
“Anyone trying to push us to politics should weigh its impact first,” he said, “we are a labour movement which is interested in the workers’ welfare.”
Labour Cabinet Secretary Kazungu Kambi and his Security counterpart Joseph Ole Lenku were high-ranking officials who attended the venue, alongside Senators and MPs—including Majority Leader at the National Assembly Aden Duale.
Kambi who was the chief guest at the ceremony assured Atwoli that the government will “not meddle with COTU affairs.”
“We will everything possible to support workers in this country, we will not do anything that can divide them,” he said.
The Interior Cabinet Secretary on his part called for tolerance, saying any form of division amongst workers will not benefit Kenya.
“Let’s not concentrate on fighting each other, we should always embrace tolerance amongst ourselves in leading workers’ movements,” Lenku said, before he left hurriedly to attend to “other state duties.”