Labour Day of pain amid job losses and salary cuts

Kenyans mark Labour Day at Uhuru Park, Nairobi, on May 1, 2019. PHOTO | FILE

It starts with song and dance.

The mood in stadiums across the country is ecstatic. Workers from all walks of life march into venues in matching attire, full of expectation.

The day always comes to an end with the promise of a pay rise — at least for the lowest paid employees — since it is the day the government announces the new minimum wage.

But after the dark cloud of Covid-19 visited the country and the world, Kenya will today mark a Labour Day like no other.

For the first time, most union officials were — by 4pm Thursday — still in the dark, not knowing how the day would be marked. Normally, they would have receive printed invitation cards well in advance.

Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) Secretary-General Francis Atwoli, who plays host to the event, said whereas all meetings had been put off, he will be addressing workers through the media from his Solidarity Building headquarters in Nairobi.

“All meetings have been put off, but we will be addressing workers. All media houses will be at Solidarity Building,” he told the Nation.


In an earlier briefing, he said he had asked President Uhuru Kenyatta to grace the event as the guest of honour.

“We have written to him, asking him to indicate a suitable venue for him to address workers and employers. This is not happening just in Kenya, but the world over. All activities have been put off, including the International Labour Conference in Geneva because of this dangerous virus,” he said.

The Federation of Kenya Employers chief executive Jacqueline Mugo was holed up in a meeting Thursday.

During the meeting attended by Labour Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui, his Principal Secretary Peter Tum and Cotu officials, led by Mr Atwoli, they signed a tripartite Memorandum of Understanding on addressing effects of Covid-19 on the labour and employment sector.

Without giving details, Mr Chelugui said that the MoU covers agreements made between the government, workers’ unions and employers’ representatives.

But today, 18 million workers, who previously went to the fete with demands for pay rises and better working conditions will be at pains.


They will mark the day praying and clinging onto hope that they will not be the next victims of job cuts.

A report from the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection indicates that the virus has already rendered at least 133,657 Kenyans jobless in the last 50 days alone.

This number excludes employees who are on unpaid leave and those who have taken pay cuts.

A majority of those affected are in the manufacturing sector, one of the pillars of the Jubilee administration’s Big Four Agenda, where 500 workers have been laid off. The security sector has sent home 300 workers.

The report notes that the numbers are likely to rise because most companies are yet to notify the ministry of redundancies as required under the Employment Act, 2017.

Before the virus hit Kenya, several companies were already on this path. These include Tuskys supermarket, which restructured its operations rendering a number of staff jobless.

Shoprite supermarket also fired 104 staff after closing its Waterfront branch in Karen.


Other firms that have announced retrenchment plans in the recent past include Tullow Oil, Stanbic Bank, East African Portland Cement Company, Telkom Kenya, betting firms Sportpesa and Betin, East African Breweries Limited, Finlays, Sanlam Kenya (formerly Pan Africa Insurance Holdings) and Mumias Sugar Company.

Other firms that retrenched employees last year include the National Bank of Kenya, Standard Chartered Bank, Barclays Bank and insurer Britam.

The firms sent home thousands of Kenyans. But when Covid 19 struck, things only moved from bad to worse.

The Economic Survey 2020 estimates that total employment, excluding those engaged in small-scale farming and pastoralist activities, increased from 17.3 million in 2018 to 18.1 million in 2019.

The total number of new jobs generated in the economy was 846,300, with the informal sector estimated to have created the bulk of these new jobs.

The Central Bank of Kenya on Thursday revealed that that debt-stressed borrowers approached banks to have loans amounting to Sh9.9 billion restructured within two weeks after it announced emergency measures to minimise the impact of Covid-19 pandemic last month.


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