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Chinese contractors improve livelihoods of Kenyan workers

By Li Jiabao in Nairobi | China Daily | Updated: 2013-03-26 07:10

The influx of Chinese contracting companies into Kenya is not only bringing roads and railways to the East African country, but also income, employment and vital skills to the local workforce.

For John Wangai Gichungu, who works as a truck driver for the Kenyan branch of China Road and Bridge Corp, it has brought even more.

"Before I worked for the company, I could not earn enough money even to get married, but now, working for it, I am married and can feed my family," he said.

Gichungu used to work as a van co-driver at a business in Nairobi for 10,000 Kenyan shillings ($116.5) a month. He landed a job in a CRBC workshop in 2000, earning 25,000 to 30,000 KShs a month depending on how many shifts he worked.

"Food in Nairobi is very expensive. But I am lucky working for this company. Many people outside are suffering," said Gichungu, who got married in 2000 and now has three girls and a boy.

His wife used to sell vegetables at the side of the road leading to a CRBC construction camp. The couple met at her stall.

"All over the world, the economy is not good. But working for this company, I have managed to send three of my children to school," he said.

He now earns 35,000 to 40,000 KShs a month, and is head of the CRBC's truck driver team in Kenya.

Renting a house in Nairobi costs Gichungu 4,000 KShs a month; he gives 10 percent of his salary, about 4,000 KShs, to a church; and tuition fees for each child cost 3,000 KShs a semester.

"The salary is very good, and my kids are proud that their father works for a big Chinese company," he said.

"We really appreciate how the company hires local people. Working in CRBC, we are like brothers."

Many Kenyans have had similar experiences after joining Chinese companies.

Gong Changyin, deputy regional manager of the East Africa Branch of Sinohydro Corp Ltd, said his company has created work for over 6,000 local people since getting into the Kenyan market in 1997.

"The salaries we pay local workers are 30 percent higher than the average, and 50 percent higher than salaries in Indian companies," he said.

He added that his company now has strict controls on raw material costs to offset rising labor costs, which have almost doubled since 2007.

CRBC has hired more than 1,500 local workers, as well as 50 Chinese managers, at the construction site of Nairobi's South-Ring Road, being built to divert traffic from downtown areas.

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