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Employers exploiting legal gaps to fire workers: COTU

By Dominic Omondi | Published Sat, April 14th 2018 at 00:00, Updated April 13th 2018 at 23:09 GMT +3

Employers might be taking advantage of the country’s ambiguous labour laws to give workers inferior send-off packages when restructuring, a workers’ union representative has claimed.

Peter Ngugi, a trade unionist, has raised the red-flag on the increasing trend where workers are being rendered jobless by automation and digitisation but wrongfully paid under redundancy terms.

He said while much of the digitisation involves transfer of jobs, affected employees are given peanuts as send-off package as though their work had been abolished.

“Employers are paying workers under redundancy terms, even when their offices have not been abolished,” Mr Ngugi said.

“In the event of litigation, such a dismissal will be quashed,” he added.

Ngugi was a panelist at an event organised by Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) and FES Kenya that discussed the impact of digitisation on the manufacturing sector.

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“Current laws do not accommodate employers’ desire for automation,” he said. Under Section 2 of the Employment Act, 2007 redundancy is defined as the loss of employment, occupation, job or career by involuntary means through no fault of the employee.

“It involves termination of employment at the initiative of the employer, where the services of an employee are superfluous,” reads an advisory by Oraro Advocates.

Manufacturers argued that increased competition has left firms with no option but to automate so as to increase efficiency and market share.

Tobias Alando, head of membership at Kenya Association of Manufacturers said digitisation was the surest way to increase the contribution of manufacturing to the economy from the current 10 per cent to 15 per cent as envisaged in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four agenda.

A 2017 survey done by the World Economic Forum found that 52 per cent of work activities in Kenya are susceptible to automation, ahead of those in Nigeria (46 per cent), Ethiopia (44 per cent) and South Africa (41 per cent).

And with data from Kenya National Bureau of Statistics showing that there were about 2.5 million Kenyans engaged in employment by 2017, it means 1.3 million of them are at risk of losing their jobs to automation.

Ngugi said they were not opposed to technology, but wanted fairness and decency in the jobs created and their terms.

A representative of the Ministry of Labour, Philip Didi, said the Government was keen on upskilling workers so as to deal with the challenges of the modern work environment.

“With digitisation, you have to do re-skilling,” he said, noting that training institutions were lagging behind industries.

“Digitisation should not be seen as a conflict between humans and machines, because we will lose. Your mode of production should be in a position where you can compete with all countries,” Mr Didi said.

IEA’s Kwame Owino said the surest way for workers to safeguard against the digital onslaught is to improve their productivity.

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