In the sprawling industrial complex of Athi River, employees of the Export Processing Zone Authority (EPZA) are voicing their concerns over the increasingly dire state of their work environment.
The EPZA’s compound, a significant contributor to the region’s garment and pharmaceutical industries, is plagued by water shortages and leaking rooftops that are transforming the once-thriving industrial zone into a hazardous workspace.
The water scarcity, a problem that has been festering for three months, is a result of severe rationing by the Nairobi Water Company, the principal supplier for the EPZA. With water being an essential component in many production processes, this shortage has led to disrupted operations and even complete shutdowns in some instances.
To circumvent the crisis, investors have turned to private water suppliers, a measure that has introduced additional operational costs and delayed production timelines. Companies within the EPZA, particularly those in garment manufacturing that rely on steam irons incompatible with saline water, have felt the brunt of these disruptions.
Under the veil of anonymity, several investors disclosed to the New York Times that this situation has led to a 30% reduction in their production output. They also expressed fears of a possible shutdown if the issue continues to persist.
One of the most adversely affected companies is Mahalakshmi GMT EPZ, a garment manufacturer employing 1,200 individuals. Employees at the factory are not only concerned about potential layoffs due to decreased production but also fear for their health as poor sanitation conditions increase the risk of disease.
According to Zachary Ann Mary Milimu, a worker at the factory, the situation is dire. “We fear the worst,” he confided, mentioning the frequent blockages of the company’s toilets due to the water shortage.
Mahalakshmi’s troubles are compounded by the state of its physical infrastructure. The leaky roof of the factory’s attic building has proven particularly disruptive during the rainy season, causing operations to come to a halt. Workers have expressed concerns over the risk of electrocution as rainwater often soaks the building’s electrical systems.
These conditions not only pose a significant safety hazard but also impact the quality of the factory’s output. Zacharia Wanjala, another worker, recounted instances where they had to discard export-ready garments damaged by the leaking roof.
As the situation worsens, workers worry about the potential closure of the factory due to the untenable working conditions, leading to widespread job losses.
Daniel Maingi, the chief shop steward, has urged the EPZA management to address the issues. However, he alleges that their pleas have been largely ignored. He stressed the need for a conducive working environment for both investors and workers, calling for the management to rectify the situation.
Alice Atogo, the EPZA’s acting chief executive officer, attributed the responsibility for the infrastructural problems to the department in charge of the buildings, claiming that she wasn’t authorized to make a further comment.
The EPZA complex, situated in Athi River, Machakos County, is home to 17 export-focused companies that employ about 17,000 people, highlighting the potential ramifications of the ongoing crisis.