NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 1 – Operations at the Mombasa Port were brought to a standstill on Wednesday when thousands of workers downed their tools over increased National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) deductions.
The dock workers prevented goods from being moved into or out of the port by blocking the main gate.
They camped outside the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) headquarters protesting what they said were ‘illegal’ NHIF deductions.
Through the Dock Workers Union, the workers had threatened to down their tools should the increased deductions be made without their consent.
Only three days earlier, the dockworkers had again downed their tools, protesting delayed salaries.
Delays at the Port of Mombasa often result in millions of shillings in losses with KPA describing it as, “the main gateway to the Eastern African hinterland countries of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, DRC and Southern Sudan.”
The Trade Unions Congress of Kenya (TUC-K) had issued a seven day strike notice in June over the newly gazetted NHIF rates.
“We want the government to reverse the controversial gazette that increased those NHIF rates. We also want a refund to be given to all workers whose salaries have been deducted following the implementation of the new rates (in April),” TUC-K Deputy General Secretary Charles Mukhwaya told Capital FM News. “Should this not happen by July 1, we will advise our workers to go on strike.”
Acting Labour Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo held a meeting with the Congress representatives on Tuesday in a bid to avert a strike but no deal was reached. The new NHIF rates were gazetted on February 6 and saw workers pay higher contributions from April 1.
Employees earning a maximum of Sh5,999 contribute Sh150 per month to the national health insurer while those who take home over Sh100,000 per month part with Sh1,700.
The legal notice signed by NHIF Chief Executive Officer Simeon ole Kirgotty and Chairman Mohamud Mohamed Ali also requires self-employed Kenyans to contribute Sh500 to the fund.
Plans to introduce the new rates in the past were met with opposition from workers and at one time the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (COTU) went to court but later agreed to drop the case after negotiations.
The negotiations between COTU and NHIF saw the workers’ contribution put at between Sh150 and Sh1,700 per month. The proposed deductions were further delayed by talks between employers and unions, led by the Trade Unions Congress of Kenya.
The unions had said they would accept the new rates only if the monthly deductions were computed based on a percentage rating so that low-income earners are not overburdened.
Besides the computation, the unions have also demanded to be represented on the NHIF board together with a representative from the Union of Kenya Civil Servants.