Minimum wage narrative is obsolete

Families are on the verge of starvation and malnutrition, with many facing the impossible choice between food, rent, transport, school fees, water, and medicine, daily. [iStockphoto]

Labour Day, also known as International Workers’ Day, is a civic holiday to celebrate the achievement of workers.  Several nations vary the actual date of their celebrations making the holiday occur on a Monday close to 1 May.

This year’s Labour Day anniversary is distinctive, coming at a time when the country is experiencing intense levels of political polarization, insecurity, high cost of living, inflation, hunger, drought and religious radicalization.

As we mark this historic day, it is imperative to note, a healthy nation is a wealthy nation, and its stability is in the palms of its citizens. For the past three years, the nation has undergone a myriad of socio-economic and political constraints.

We have experienced adversity and moments that have seen forth the loss of loved ones, statesmen and ladies, massive job redundancies, closure of businesses, immense pressure on health systems, travel bans, lockdowns, and political and ethnic profiling.

The shopping baskets for most Kenyans have become significantly smaller. Families are on the verge of starvation and malnutrition, with many facing the impossible choice between food, rent, transport, school fees, water, and medicine, daily. Prospects of rapid economic recovery for Kenya and a better quality of life in the short run, appear grim. Mental and psychological pressures either at family unit levels or the workplace, with cases of suicides, femicides, homicides and cultism are on the rise as a result of the inability of the majority to meet common basic demands.

The public resentment over skyrocketing food prices and the high cost of living needs empirical intervention measures by the government of the day. The government needs to step in authoritatively and double its efforts in cushioning Kenyans against the spiralling food, farm inputs and fuel prices.

The minimum wage hypothesis has failed; it has not kept pace with the rising cost of living, causing many Kenyans to live below the poverty level. There is a need to adopt a research-based living or minimum wage, that commensurates practically with the actual cost of living among the various cadres of the workforce.

For instance, most private security providers operate below standards and are in gross violation of the employment and labour relations provisions.

They pay their employees far below the government minimum wage requirements, with no remittances of PAYE, NSSF and NHIF which are statutory mandatory obligations and a right for an employee; they subject their employees to unconducive working conditions, whilst minting millions of cash from clients and making profits at the expense of the dedicated workers and evading tax.

Instances of unfair, non-competitive tendering processes and corruption are bedevilling the industry, hitting hard on a few of the private service providers and firms operating fairly above basic labour relations guidelines. Reputable private security firms are contemplating either winding- up, merging or relocating elsewhere.

The country’s security and policing cannot thrive without involving and working with the people and in particular private security officers and nyumba kumi.  There is a need to abandon regime policing and embrace a democratic policing model that engages the community with accountability measures in place.

Private security officers’ terms of service and welfare regarding remuneration, overtime, allowance, training, career progression and empowerment should be scrutinized and reviewed, just like what is being considered for the police and prison officers.

The bare minimum rent in most of the slums in Nairobi is Sh6,000 for an iron-sheet modelled house, a salary increment of Sh2,000 during labour day celebrations is far below cushioning a private security guard. If not addressed, the pressure is a time bomb in waiting. There is a need to empower guards through the establishment of a giant sector Sacco.

The government’s borrowing spree has added an additional load on Kenyans. Unfortunately, much of the government revenue raised to service debts is lost to corruption, making the cost of doing business and living very high.

The stakeholders in the sector such as COTU, FKE and Consumer associations should focus on making Kenyans’ lives a little easier by putting in place policies and intervention measures to cushion the population against insecurity, scale the war against corruption, inflation, high cost of living, drought, ignorance and poverty, advocate for a united and cohesive nation devoid hate-speech, incitement, divisive politics and violence.

The Private Security Regulation Act and the associated laws should be strengthened and enforced. There is a need to fully operationalize the Private Security Regulatory Authority (PSRA) and professionalize the industry by establishing a private security academy that will foster modern training and equipping, ranking and accreditation as well as progressive career growth. Professionalizing the sector, can yield labour export and boost diaspora remittances as a source of income to the government.

The writer, Isaac GM Andabwa, is the National General Secretary- Kenya National Private Security Workers Union, a Board Member- COTU(K) and a Steering Committee Member- UNI PROPERTIES SERVICE, UNI GLOBAL UNION.