China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), the Chinese company that operates the standard gauge railway (SGR), has kicked up a labour market storm after it issued its employees with gagging orders barring them from leaking any information about the firm’s activities.
CRBC says in a letter seen by the Business Daily that no employee will be allowed to record, store, copy and share any confidential information on SGR operations to non-workers without approval of the company.
“One should not post negative articles, videos or photos on social media that involves SGR operations,” the letter says even as it warns of dire consequences.
The directive goes against the constitutional and legal obligations of Kenya Railways, a State corporation that is bound to conduct its operations with utmost transparency in order to remain accountable to the people of Kenya whose taxes run it.
The Kenyan Constitution gives citizens the right to access information held by the State or another person especially where that information is required for the exercise or protection of any right or fundamental freedom.
CRBC last May signed a five-year operations, maintenance and service agreement with Kenya Railways for the Mombasa-Nairobi segment of the SGR line. The deal also requires the Chinese firm to maintain the equipment and rail tracks according to prescribed manuals and in line with best global industry standards.
The Chinese operator has, however, on a number of occasions been accused of violating workers’ rights – a development that may have prompted the company to issue the gag notice to employees.
Three years ago, for instance, more than 300 SGR workers in Voi sub-county downed their tools alleging discrimination by CRBC officials. The workers drawn from Manyani and Man-Eaters camp sites said they were risking their lives as police officers deployed to provide security at the camp were only guarding Chinese officials, leaving them at the mercy of wild animals.
The Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) said there was nothing unique about the directive as such matters are dealt with under specific employment contracts and internal human resource policy manuals.
“The legal provision will be dealt with under the specific employment contract and the company’s human resource policy manual. The confidentiality clause and non-complete agreements bind employees under common law,” said FKE executive director Jacqueline Mugo.