Minimum wage increase dashed workers’ hopes for better pay

COTU choir performs during Labour Day celebrations at Uhuru Park, Nairobi. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]
This year’s Labour Day turned out to be an anticlimactic occasion for the Kenyan workers. President Uhuru Kenyatta attempted to achieve the impossible- appeasing both the workers and employers.  

He raised the minimum wage-or the lowest wage permitted by law-in Mombasa, Kisumu and Nairobi by five per cent from the current Sh19,831 to Sh20,822. The pronouncement was preceded by a lot of canvasing from both sides, with employers urging the President not to whimsically raise the minimum wage. The Secretary General of the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (COTU) Francis Atwoli had made a pitch for an 18 per cent increase in the minimum wage.

Employers, through the Kenya Association of Manufactures (KAM), said they had been buffeted by high inflation rates, drought and a prolonged electioneering period. “A ceremonial wage increase will not help us to tackle the subject of poverty eradication in a sustainable way,” said KAM CEO Phyllis Wakiaga.

Workers, through COTU, had already made their intention clear: They desperately needed a significant pay rise to cushion themselves against the general increase in the prices of goods and services, technically known as inflation. In the end, President Kenyatta added a paltry Sh500 to the pay slip of the lowest paid worker.

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It was a drop in the ocean for workers who had braved the chill to stay through the numerous boring speeches, just so they could get the good news.

It was the lowest increment Kenyatta has ever awarded workers in his five years as Head of State. With the new directive, the monthly basic minimum wages for the agriculture industry, the country’s main employer, goes up from Sh8,595 in 2017 to Sh9,024 in 2018.

Unskilled employees, the lowest paid category of workers, will see their monthly wages rise from Sh6,416 in 2017 to Sh6,737. While the increment was done with the aim of placating both sides, workers might have gotten the shorter end of the stick. If the economy was not good for employers, it was not good for employees either. Workers saw their earnings eroded by inflationary pressures.  

The Government should do more to improve the business environment, which, in turn, will result into increased productivity for both employers and workers.

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