Today we celebrate the most important factor of production of our times, human capital.
There have been many developments, at times attempts to hand the work that people do to machines in a push to enhance efficiency, but we are not there yet – at least not fully.
Even in generations to come, it is unimaginable that human beings will have no role in production and service delivery despite technological advancements.
In the meantime, therefore, employers must take this opportunity to reflect on the selflessness and commitment of their workers.
We have been lucky that no major incident has happened in the workplace where workers’ safety was compromised in the last year.
Partly, this was achieved through various deliberate investments geared towards enhancing safety at the work place, especially in the manufacturing sector.
This calls for celebration.
However, to-date, farm workers are still exposed to hazardous working environments whose toll on their health becomes evident further down the road.
Many are battling various cancers, not to mention the respiratory conditions that are directly attributable to poor working conditions.
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At the very least, this is akin to robbing such victims of the most productive years of their lives while consigning them to long-term suffering and poverty.
Employers in the agricultural sector, which is the country’s mainstay, must today take a longer view on their operations and position employee safety at the fore.
There have been pertinent issues, including long working hours in some fields and non-adherence to minimum pay guidelines.
House helps are specifically a target for exploitation by employers, with little or no way in which the Government can intervene on their behalf under the present structure, to guarantee their wellbeing.
No efforts have been made to ensure nannies are paid Sh13,572 a month as awarded in the last minimum pay review during last year’s Labour Day celebrations.
It is common knowledge that thousands of these house helps around the country are paid far less below the recommended minimum wage, added to which they work very long hours.
There should be modalities that enable follow up on the policy pronouncements which are often outcomes of expensive and rigorous labour studies.
Desperation owing to scarcity of opportunities, coupled with ignorance mean that workers are putting up with huge concessions, some of them illegal. Then there is the elephant in the room; employee compensation.
Findings from the labour market tell us that while the average pay has been rising, it has consistently lagged the cost of living. While wages have been rising across the market, the growth has been more than wiped out by the higher prices on commodities. In the end, workers can hardly maintain their standards of living since their incomes are in actual terms declining.
Pay increments should at the very least keep up with inflation to enable the workers retain their living standards; if not to keep improving as long as they are working and producing.
And that, clearly, explains why this is an important factor of productivity in the labour market. The economy is built through consumption and the workers’ cumulatively are the engine of growth, from supply side as labour and demand side as the buyers.
In between, the worker is the biggest source of taxes to the Government via Pay As You Earn (PAYE). A healthy balance should always be sought to ensure the worker is well compensated to ensure maximum productivity while on other hand, ensuring workers’ earnings are taxed just enough to guarantee there is enough to take home. On the contrary here, taxation takes away most of a workers’ pay; little wonder then that even after many years of work, there is little, if anything, to show for it in retirement.
It is from the disposable income that workers are able to spend to keep the economy chugging forward, and in the course of it, build more jobs. In summary, the economy must work for the workers to ensure they are incentivised enough, since they are the goose that lays the golden egg.