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Kenya Railways faced with talent shortage after RVR takeover

Rift Valley Railways locomotives at the Mombasa port. file photo | nmg
Rift Valley Railways locomotives at the Mombasa port. file photo | nmg 

Shortage of key talent and wide pay gap awaits the Kenya Railways (KR) as it prepares to inherit part of the 2,000 employees from the Rift Valley Railways (RVR).

The RVR failed to undertake a planned skills and competency audit citing financial constraints but has generally grappled with low technical and leadership skills, especially at the middle and low management levels.

“The talent shortage has been occasioned by the lack of training due to constraints on budgets,” says the RVR in an internal audit seen by the Business Daily. The firm, however, declined to respond to our questions.

“There are critical vacancies that have arisen due to exits by employees either through retirement, terminations, resignations or redundancies that left vacuums in service delivery,” the audit says, adding that leadership vacuums have negatively affected operations in Kenya and Uganda.

On July 31, the High Court ordered the transfer of rail transport service management from RVR to the KR within 30 days ending August 30.

The two agencies have since constituted a joint team to work out the modalities of the hand-back “to ensure minimal impact on staff, customers and other stakeholders”.

That means the Kenyan staff of the RVR being hired by the taxpayer again, as the Kenya Railways employees from September 1. Official data, however, shows that most of the RVR managers have been working in an acting capacity, something that is likely to put the KR on a collision course with unions. The unions are likely to demand immediate confirmation into the roles or threaten lawsuits.

Before Kenya terminated its 25-year concession, the RVR had pledged to fill all the critical positions with substantive role holders “to stabilise the business”.

In Uganda, some management-level employees are union members, something that the RVR had termed as a conflict of interest since “strike in a case where both workers and managers are controlled by unions can totally disable the business.”

The RVR does not have a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the Union in Uganda as negotiations have always stalled in four years.

In their 2017 CBA negotiations, the Ugandan unions have been demanding that retirees be given retirement package as opposed to the pension contributed.

The RVR had ruled out paying out the retirement package “unless forced by the court”. It says in the report: “If this is allowed, the union in Kenya may demand the same for its members”. That dilemma is to be transferred to the KR from September 1.

When it invited a lead investor early this year, the RVR had proposed a 10 per cent increase on current staff salaries (about Sh18 million per month) for all staff payable from March 2017.

The same rate of increment was awarded to Kenyan workers last year.

In a written interview with the Business Daily, KR managing director Atanas Maina criticised the RVR not only for its failure to maintain assets and meet freight volume targets but also for staffing decisions.

“Certain shareholder and board decisions with regard to manpower services and investments were wrong and have cost the company heavily,” he said.

The RVR management says its workers were always forced to operate from dilapidated buildings where they lacked proper facilities like running rooms for training crew.

“As a result, performance and productivity were negatively affected, contributing to staff demotivation and unchecked unethical behaviour,” states the RVR report. Had Kenya not terminated its contract, the RVR had indicated it would refurbish its premises and provide basic facilities to its workers.