Workers at Kenya's main port of Mombasa stopped operations for hours on Thursday, demanding more pay and paralysing dock work at the region's main gateway, union and management officials said, with the possibility of more disruptions this week.
The port, the biggest in the east African region, handles imports such as fuel for Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia, and its throughput is an indicator of regional economic activity.
Workers jammed the main entrance to the port's administrative headquarters, abandoning waiting ships.
Union officials said the stoppage was caused by a failure by management to implement a collective bargaining agreement signed between the union and management in 2013.
"We had issues with the transport allowance which was part of the collective bargaining agreement we entered into and was supposed to have been implemented by yesterday (Wednesday) but that did not happen," Simon Sang, dock workers union secretary general, said in Mombasa.
Journalists were barred from the port, but a senior management official said workers had been persuaded to return to work.
"We agreed negotiations between union and management will continue tomorrow, so we have asked workers to go back to work and they have complied," said Bernard Osero, the port corporate affairs manager.
Workers who spoke to Reuters said they would strike again if their grievances were not addressed by Friday.
"We are going back to work for now, but if they (management) don't honour their promise and implement the payments as agreed, we will be back at their doorstep," one said by telephone.
In 2012 over a half of the some 6,000 workers at the port went on strike demanding that 3,500 workers, most of who were loaders, and had worked at the port for between 15 and 20 years on casual and contractual basis, be given permanent jobs.
President Uhuru Kenyatta, who took charge of Kenya last April, has pledged to cut red tape to help keep the country's status as a regional trading hub, amid growing competition from the port of Dar es Salaam in neighbouring Tanzania.
By Joseph Akwiri