OPINION: I spent six years at UoN for Engineering degree but ended up packing bottle tops 14hrs a night

OPINION: I spent six years at UoN for Engineering degree but ended up packing bottle tops 14hrs a night

Having spent at the University of Nairobi (UoN) studying engineering and graduating late 2019, I thought 2020 was the year ya kuomoka till corona happened.

After graduating in September 2019 and landing an internship immediately things were going very well.

In January 2020 everything seemed promising; it was the year I was going to land that dream job.

Opportunities were in plenty Total, Schneider, EABL, Baker Hughes all had graduate programs and not forgetting other entry level engineering jobs and internships.

I landed two interviews in the first week of January. One was at Kapa Oil for an internship position. The interview was great.

The offer was a 6-month internship, no pay, had to pay for my own lunch in the vegan canteen, I took it.

After two days there, I got a real job offer in a bakery till corona hit and I lost the job after 6 months, had to start tarmacking again. This is where my nightmare started.

0n June 29, University of Nairobi (UoN) Career Services posted a job advert and it was forwarded on WhatsApp.

They wanted Mechanical and Engineering graduates and I knew this is it I mean UoN career services gotta be legitimate.

This was the job description
This was the job description. PHOTO/COURTESY


The job looked good on paper: it was operation of automatic machines. I didn’t waste any time so I sent my CV to UoN career services and they confirmed. All I had to do now is wait.

On June 30 that was the last day on my old job, I got a call from the company’s HR, a very nice and calm man, he invited me for an interview. I was lucky I mean I haven’t even spent time tarmacking. I was very excited.

The following week, I went for the interview. They gave me an aptitude test, easy basic Engineering maths and some stuff about compressed air and how to read a vernier caliper. I did well and at the end they informed they will give me the job but I had to show them my previous job’s contract.

This was a big red flag but I told them they have to match the terms of my previous contract and they said okay. They said they will call back after a few days so I went home.

After about two weeks a lady calls and said she was from a consultancy company that the HR gave them my number I am supposed to go with my certificates at Corner House in town and sign some papers.

I was confused because in the interview they didn’t mention anything about subcontracting me. I went anyway to see what they were offering and see if they matched what we discussed during the interview. When I got they gave me some papers to sign and fill my details.

What these consultancy companies do is that you register with them, pay some registration fee. They have some clients i.e. companies that hire them to provide labour. When an opportunity comes up they get you an interview and if you get a job you pay them a percentage of your first full monthly salary.

In this situation I hadn’t even heard of this consultancy company and wasn’t even their registered member. The company didn’t want to hire me directly so they used them (it’s easier to get rid of subcontracted workers) to hire me.

First I had to fill a registration form and then before I had finished gave me a contract agreement to sign that I would give up my first full month salary. I asked why they showed me the service charge sheet which I felt it was robbery since they played no part in getting me the job.

After all that, I signed the agreement and I started asking about the terms of the job. First it was the working hours, the job was a shift job 12 hours day shift and 13 hours nightshift. During shift changes (switching working from night to day), you have to work 18 hours.

The second thing was the salary, they said I can’t get what we agreed with HR I have to settle with Ksh.30,000 and from this they deduct lunch and supper they offer in the company( which is terrible tbh). For me money wasn’t the biggest of priorities so I didn’t complain too much.

Another thing was lateness, I was to join the night shift and I was supposed to report at 6pm. If anything happened and I was late for 30 minutes I have to go back home and no pay for that day.

They didn’t offer any transport or any additional allowances. For those who know the Likoni Road-Lunga-Lunga Road route, the only available matatus are the old Outreach Sacco (I don’t know how those things still work) in Muthurwa.

So if you’re coming from the other side of town, you have to walk to catch a matatu at Muthurwa every single day to and from. This means if you live a lil bit far you have to add 4 hours of commute to your working hours. This means the job is taking between 17-19hours of your day.

After getting all this information I still took the job, I was to start on the night of August 5. The reporting time was 6pm so I left home at 4pm and arrived a few minutes to 6pm. They did the security checks and linked me to the team leader of the shift.

The guy gave me an overall and told me “I hope huogopi kazi“. No orientations, no introductions the guy took me to the machines.. They produce metal crowns/glass bottle tops for soft drinks and beer. He gave me some other guy who showing me how the job is done.

The guy demonstrated for 5 minutes. The job was first forming the cartons in to a box, then fitting a polythene bag on the box, fill up the box with the metal crowns, shake the box for the crowns to settle, you seal the box, label the box, put it in a pallet, stack up the pallet up to 5 stacks, drag the pallet to the storage, come back with another pallet and start the same cycle.

The first 30 minutes I was already sweating but I thought probably after some time I was informed I had to keep doing it till my shift was over. By 9pm I was so exhausted.

At 10pm, a “supper” break came to my rescue, it was for 10minutes but I got time to talk to the other guys. I asked them how they manage to do that job every day. Most of them had joined like three weeks earlier and they don’t have an option they have to do it for their families.

The “supper” was 2 chapos na ndengu which was to be deducted from your salary. As I was talking to the guys, they told me that day was a slow day. There’s a day they worked 18 hours a night. You clock in at 6pm and leave next day at 12noon. That’s madness.

That supper break was the only break, for the rest of the night you’re expected to work till your shift ends. By midnight, my legs and hands were shaking, my back couldn’t hold anymore but I had to keep going. The speed of the machine was crazy.

So I started tracking how much working I was doing just to distract myself. One box of the metal crowns was 10,000 pieces and by midnight I had done 60 cartons. That’s 600, 000 crowns.

The price of metal crowns i.e wholesale is $0.01-0.04 (Source: Alibaba). That is Ksh.5 bob per piece, which means in 7 hours the cost of all of that was Ksh.2.6million.

By the end of the night I did 1.2million pieces which translates to almost Ksh.6million. The guy next to me did Ksh.2.6million pieces which is roughly Ksh.11million.

With 4 lines of Fabrication you can only imagine the amount of money those guys are making. These “small” companies in Industrial Area make lots of money but the working conditions there are horrible. They don’t care at all about their workers.

I don’t understand how someone is expected to work 14 hours a night with one 10 min break for 6 days a week and when the demand is too high the off-day is deferred to a later day. And to switch from night shift, you have to work 18 hours with no compensation.

I don’t have a problem with the salary but doing that kind of work for 14 hours needs superhero powers not someone who was used to mandazi for lunch and chapo ndengu in UoN.

How can a company take 18/24 hours of your time? Means you have 6 hours personal time and you haven’t even slept; and to think of the money they’re making, it’s just inhumane. I don’t even know if that’s legal.

Anyway, I clocked out at 7.08 am. I was feeling sick so on my way I was checking the job description and I realized they said they required someone with “physical stamina and strength”, which clearly I wasn’t. I was never going back to that place.

I slept the whole way kwa matatu, I actually felt I needed an ambulance to be honest. I arrived at home around 9am. I took breakfast and slept for two days. Today 5 days later, I am still recovering.

I wonder how many people in Industrial Area work under these conditions and probably worse. I am lucky I don’t have a family so I can survive till the next opportunity comes up. That’s high-key modern day slavery if you ask me.

Their bargaining power is that so many people don’t have jobs so when you go to the interview they will utilise that to get you signing up to really bad terms cause you don’t have another option. I am sure they have already replaced me with someone else and the cycle continues.

I feel for every young Kenyan man, it’s crazy out here. For everyone looking for a job or in a bad one, sending some love. Hang in there, we hope for better days.

This article is a compilation of tweets from Wyregi, an Engineering graduate from the University of Nairobi