Kenya: Use of force on striking aviation workers violates right to protest

ARTICLE 19 is concerned by the use of force by police against striking aviation workers at Jommo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) on 6 March 2019, and urges the government once again to cease the use of excessive force against those exercising their right to protest. Striking aviation workers were met with batons and tear gas by General Service Unit (GSU) police, in response to their demonstration over employment conditions and pay. Kenya Aviation Workers Union Secretary General Moses Ndiema was also arrested over the strike. Six Kenya Airways (KQ) and Kenya Airport Authority staff were hurt as police broke up the demo.

Kenya has over the past 5 years seen a number of industrial actions by workers who demand that their voices be heard. The most recent has been the February 2019 nurses strike, where workers from 14 out of the 47 counties left their posts and took to the streets to demonstrate over pay rises and allowances. In October 2018, the Kenya National Nurses Union (KNUN) Secretary General Seth Panyakoo was arrested after he met a group of nurses at Kenyatta National Hospital and advised them to go on strike to communicate their grievance to their employer.

Industrial action is an important element of the right to protest, and such use of force is an infringement of these rights, in addition to the workers’ freedom of expression. The government should fulfill its obligations to promote and protect human rights of all people within it borders including union workers.

It is the responsibility of the state is to facilitate any demonstrations that workers may initiate, to support the right to protest and to strike, and to ensure that no one is harmed in the course of protests. We urge the government of Kenya to cease using force to respond to striking and protesting workers, which has a chilling effect on others’ exercise of the right to protest and right of workers to go on strike.