The face of Total Kenya petrol stations in Kenya speaks of a well maintained company, with some of the most disciplined employees in the country.
On the other hand, such a ‘beautiful’ face leaves a skeleton of hurting financial dealers, the people who manage operations at the stations.
In 2009 Total launched the Young Dealer Programme styled as a corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme.
The programme was meant to give business opportunities to young Kenyans with capital support for station dealership while they gain the experience and stand-alone financial strength to stand on their own.
The company would retain a certain amount of profit from the dealership, and save some for the dealers to reach a certain target after which they would graduate to become independent financial dealers.
Nairobi Law Monthly reports that since the programme started in 2009, Total has graduated just five young dealers who are now financial dealers.
Others who joined the programme tell a different story, a story of misery, agony, slavery, underpayment and a use and dump culture.
Despite being termed as managers and business partners, some earn as little as Ksh35,000, Kahawa Tungu learns.
“They call us business partners but we are not because we don’t have a say in the business. We are essentially their lower cadre employees,”one of the dealers told Nairobi Law Monthly.
“They expect you to work 24 hours without rest. Any off day has to be approved by them yet they claim you own the station,” another said.
In the initial Marketing License Agreement (MLA), Total was would save for the dealers Ksh0.50 for every litre sold, but the amount was later reduced to Ksh0.10. Once a dealer reaches his/her target, s/he graduates. However, only five have graduated in a period of over ten years, with a bigger number having crushed out.
“What this means is that as a young dealer I will have to work longer so as to attain my target. They changed the terms and the programme structure and are now looking at the once-noble programme as their source of profits. It is exploitation of Kenyans by a multi-national, the same way Shell did in Nigeria,” says one of the dealers.
For those who did not succeed to complete, their savings were also lost. Worse still, if the station makes a loss or fails to meet its target, the deficit is deducted from the savings kitty. The money does not also accumulate interest.
“Our MLA says that if a Young Dealer drops out before graduating, Total is the one that decides what to do with the security deposit so far retained. It is a very lopsided agreement that makes one a slave of the corporation. You are frustrated but you cannot opt out because you will lose all what you have worked for,” adds the dealer as quoted by Nairobi Law Monthly.
Most dealers are kicked out after complaining to management about certain issues. For instance, at Total Kimathi Street, a dealer was kicked out after complaining that some underground tanks were leaking. Instead of doing a repair, he was thrown out but days later, six cars were refilled with fuel mixed with water.
At the station near Airtel headquarters, which is the most profitable, a former dealer was thrown out after incorporating his daughter to help out due to old age. He went to court, and Total opted for an out of court settlement, since they knew the man and his daughter were thrown out in an illegal manner.
Dealers in Thika Road, Eldoret and Nyeri are said to have also been kicked out on flimsy grounds.
Some dealers have been surviving by bribing senior managers to doctor reports of their evaluation of the stations. One manager who used to receive monthly bribes from the dealers was fired recently.
Several complaints have been launched with the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (EPRA) and the Competition Authority, but nothing seems to be happening.
In a letter to the two bodies, Kenya National Petroleum Dealers Association (KENAPEDE) on January 23, 2019, secretary-general Anthony Kuria highlighted problems such as underground tanks and pipe leakages, and repairs being done without involving dealers.
“This is to ensure that these leakages are not made public and dealers are not compensated for the losses that occur (as a result of the leakages),” the letter to the acting Director of Petroleum and Natural Gas Directorate, Edward Kinyua, read in part.
The dealers’ association also faulted Total for competing with the dealers, where good staffers were poached and made dealers.
“Generally, good staff are ‘stolen’ from financial dealers and handed stations to run with the promise of being graduated into financial dealers in the future. Initially, the programme was noble and successful. However, it has been turned into a system of threatening financial dealers with immediate replacement if they do not toe the line. In addition, young dealers are treated as disposable ‘slaves’ who have no say in the decision making process despite running the businesses on a day to day basis,” the letter stated.
It also emerged that young dealers are transferred from station to station under new contracts to prevent them from graduating into financial dealers. Transfers can be done on the basis of improvement on the current location or massive and unjustifiable increase in rent.
Another letter to the Director-General of the Competition Authority Francis Kariuki dated February 19, 2019, addressing the same has never been responded to to date.
Several letters by the association to EPRA have not been addressed, mainly due to the links between EPRA and Total management.
The current Kenya Pipeline Corporation MD Macharia Irungu was Total Kenya’s former strategy and corporate affairs director and also sat on the EPRA board before he moved to KPC.
Total has also ignored requests for meeting with the body.