Passenger and freight services are "temporarily suspended due to an industrial unrest by some of our staff".
KAMPALA - Over 500 Ugandan employees of the Rift Valley Railways Ltd (RVR) have gone on a sit-down strike, citing unfair treatment and arbitrary dismissal of workers.
This has forced the company to suspend its operations in Uganda.
"We would like to inform our esteemed customers and stakeholders that both passenger and freight services have been temporarily suspended due to an industrial unrest by some of our staff under the Uganda Railway Workers' Union," read a statement by company on Thursday.
"The industrial unrest is as a result of negative behaviour by a few of our staff whose unprofessional and unethical behaviour at the workplace has been questionable and therefore held under disciplinary measures as outlined in the company's policies and procedure.
"We are currently in discussions with the Uganda Railway Workers' Union (URWU), NOTU and Legislative Works Representative to resolve the matter," the missive said.
The strike, which started on Wednesday, followed the dismissal of two locomotive drivers. It is alleged that Peter Mutenyo and Francis Bakutayo were terminated after they were involved in the illegal sale of over 1,000 liters of diesel belonging RVR Uganda.
Efforts to talk to individual employees on strike were futile.
When New Vision visited the RVR Uganda headquarters in Kampala on Thursday, workers had reported for duty but most of them sat in different groups. The locomotives and wagons were also packed at the railway headquarters.
Passengers who would came to book tickets for the city commuter train were told the services had been suspended until further notice.
"For two days work for both cargo and passenger trains countrywide has been suspended until further notice," an officer who preferred to be unnamed told stranded travelers.
"The commuter train running the services from Kampala to Namanve, connecting via Makerere Business School, Meat packers, Interfreight headquarters, Banda, Kireka and Bweyogerere stages has been suspended too," he said.
URWU national general secretary Victor Byemaro said the strike has affected the operations in departments which control the movement of rail wagons, locomotives, civil engineering, mechanization, maintenance of the wagons and locomotives, finance and administration, among others.
A letter dated November 1, signed by (URWU) president Vincent Makombe and Byemaro and addressed to the RVR Uganda general manager Jorum Nyanzi said, in part, that "it is inhuman to condemn a person on mere suspicion without evidence of theft. We demand that both Mukungu and Mutenyo be reinstated to their jobs".
The letter also accuses Nyanzi of being uncooperative with the employees' issues.
"A productive team is built on communication, coordination and corporation. Since Nyanzi joined RVR Uganda, he has never had a formal meeting with the employees."
Nyanzi, who admitted the existence of the strike, said the protest "has cost RVR Uganda over sh3b revenue". He said RVR is the major cargo transporter of fuel from Mombasa to Kampala for Vivo Energy Uganda Limited (formerly Shell Uganda), Total Uganda and Mukwano industries.
RVR also transports raw materials for steel manufacturer Roofings Limited, wheat grain for Bakhresa Grain Milling (Uganda) Limited , Ntake Bakery Grain Milling, raw materials for Bidco Uganda Limited.
The trains also carry materials for different exporting companies which deal in timber, cocoa, seeds, and coffee to Mombasa from Uganda.
"We have recorded Bakutayo's case on CRB /36/2016, while Mutenyo's case was recorded on CRB/124/2016 at Nyenga Jinja police station," said Nyanzi.
Former workers' MP Marion Tunde, who is a member of URWU, requested RVR Uganda management to hold a meeting with the workers' union fraternity and listen to their grievances.
Current workers' MP Agnes Kunihira, a former community liaisons officer at RVR Uganda, said workers' rights and labor laws must be observed.
"It is against the workers' laws to dismiss a worker on allegations. Dialogue between the employees and the RVR management should be instituted," she said.
RVR is a consortium that was established to manage the parastatals railways of Kenya and Uganda. The consortium won the bid for private management of the former Uganda Railway in 2005. The Kenya-Uganda railway had been run by the East African Railways and Harbours Corporation 1948 to 1977.
RVR railway network comprises of the main line from Kenya to Uganda, running from Mombasa through Nairobi, Nakuru, Eldoret, Malaba, Jinja, and Kampala to Kasese in western Uganda (a distance of approximately 1660 km). A branch line runs from Nakuru to Kisumu on Lake victoria.