African Workers Report Cases of Assault, Discrimination by Their Chinese Supervisors

By Dominic Kirui, Special to The Epoch Times
June 2, 2019 Updated: June 2, 2019

SUSWA, Kenya—A Kenyan who worked on the Chinese-built Nairobi-Naivasha Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) says he and his colleagues underwent a great deal of harassment and assault by their Chinese managers while working on the project.

Samuel Wainaina, a 34-year-old father of two, recalls with a sarcastic smile the incidents that made him want to quit his job, citing cases of his colleagues and him being assaulted because of mistakes at the job site.

“Sometimes, we would be made to lie down and whipped thoroughly, and there was nothing any of us could do since we needed the jobs so we could feed our families,” he said.

This has been the reported trend in many African countries, where the Chinese are involved in development projects, with little reported support by local governments in defense of the workers. Several local media reports have exposed cases of assault, mistreatment, and discrimination against African workers by their Chinese colleagues and supervisors.

The SGR overpass on the Nairobi-Narok Highway at Suswa in Kenya’s Rift Valley, on May 29, 2019. (Dominic Kirui for The Epoch Times)

Calls seeking comment from the Chinese company involved with the railway project, China Road and Bridge Corporation, which is majority-owned by the Chinese state-owned China Communications Construction Group, weren’t returned by press time.

Assault for Refusing Bribe

In May, four Chinese contractors working for the state-owned China Railway No. 5 Construction Co., a subsidiary of the China Railway Engineering Group Ltd., were expelled from working on the Loichangamak–Lodwar road in Turkana County, northern Kenya.

The four were accused of assaulting a Kenyan engineer for declining a bribe offered by the contractors, after the engineer raised questions about the quality of work they had done on a part of the project.

The uproar over the incident prompted the Kenya National Highways Authority, in a rare move by the Kenyan government, to order that the four be expelled and deported from the country.

Suffering in Silence

Last year, an exposé by a Kenyan daily newspaper revealed how workers were being mistreated at the SGR construction sites. According to the report by the Standard, the workers claimed they’d been discriminated against and were regularly punished for refusing to do menial jobs, even though their qualifications were higher and they had applied for more skilled work.

According to the workers who say they were mistreated, the government hasn’t taken appropriate measures to deal with the issue.

Wainaina says many locals continue to suffer silently at the hands of the Chinese at these work sites.

“Most of us face this on a daily basis, but what do you want us to do when the government we are supposed to report them to will not take action, and neither will it give us jobs,” he said, adding that he looks forward to securing a job in the third phase of the SGR construction from Naivasha to Kisumu.

China has been working toward increasing its influence in Africa for decades, in an effort to boost its global power, as detailed in the Epoch Times special series “How the Specter of Communism Is Ruling Our World.” With different incentives offered to the holders of power, China has managed to wield great influence on the continent.

“The CCP [Chinese Communist Party] has relentlessly manipulated African governments and opposition groups, controlling the affairs of African countries while imposing the Chinese model and its values on them,” the series states, adding that the CCP-controlled Export-Import Bank of China supplied $62.7 billion in loans to African countries between 2001 to 2010.

Across Africa

The African Labour Research Network has said in a report that while there are differing labor conditions in Chinese-owned companies across African countries and industries, “there are some common trends, such as tense labor relations, hostile attitudes by Chinese employers towards trade unions, violations of workers’ rights, poor working conditions, and unfair labor practices.”

According to a report by a local radio station in Uganda, local casual laborers who were working at a construction site operated by the Chinese firm CICO were mistreated and illegally detained by Chinese contractors.

An alleged victim who spoke to the station said that his hand was injured during an assault from his Chinese supervisor, while another said he was locked in an office and tortured for two days, after his Chinese employers alleged that he had stolen fuel from trucks at the site.

Chinese road Nairobi
A Chinese constructed road just outside Nairobi on May 29, 2019. (Dominic Kirui for The Epoch Times)

In Zambia, TV journalist and blogger Paul Shalala raised concerns about what he called deplorable working conditions for Zambian nationals employed at a Chinese firm he had visited.

“At the time when the talk in the country is on the debt the Zambian government owes China, something more serious about the Chinese is being ignored: hundreds of Chinese companies operating in the country are paying their workers meager salaries and conditions of service are very worrying. [For example,] workers in factories are not provided with safety attire,” Shalala said in his blog.