President Uhuru Kenyatta has called for negotiations between employers and workers to curb crippling strikes, as he announced a five per cent increase on the minimum wage.
This was a modest increment compared to last year's 18 per cent raise, which employers protested against.
The increment means that basic minimum monthly wages, exclusive of housing allowances, will rise from between Sh320 and Sh1,458 for those living in Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu counties.
Uhuru maintained that structured dialogue between the parties would solve the country’s labour challenges and enable the Government to focus on economic growth as envisioned in the International Labour Organisation Statute No 144.
“The upsurge in industrial unrest is tainting our country’s name. We have to ensure that the interests of Kenyans are served and this is only possible through negotiations,” he said yesterday in a speech read on his behalf by Labour Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yattani during Labour Day celebrations at Uhuru Park, Nairobi.
“Last year, we lost 100 million man hours due to industrial unrest. This is a great concern for a developing country like ours. However, since we had 4.8 per cent inflation last year, I increase the minimum wage by five per cent with immediate effect."
While affirming his administration’s commitment to respecting workers’ rights and freedoms, Uhuru emphasised that harmony was key for him to achieve his 'Big Four' development agenda.
The President has identified manufacturing, food security, universal healthcare and affordable housing as four key things he wants to deliver in his second and last term in office.
“My government has recruited labour officers who will soon be deployed to the counties. I also direct the Treasury to release money for hiring additional labour officers so we can continue to make our already good labour relations better,” Uhuru said.
The President also revealed that his administration had signed labour agreements with Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to offer employment and protection to Kenyan workers.
He said in this financial year, the Government would allocate funds to foster dispute resolution mechanisms and roll out the national internship policy for university graduates.
Uhuru further noted that the recently formed National Employment Authority (NEA) and the Labour Migration Bill 2017 pending in Parliament would further guide his administration on how to handle employment matters.
The Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu), Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut), Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) and National Super Alliance (NASA) called for sustained war on graft, pointing out that it was bleeding the country.
They further urged the Government to recall the Statute Law (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2018 from Parliament, saying it spelled doom for Kenyan workers.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga called on the Government to address the high cost living.
“Let us increase workers’ salaries but also focus on reducing the cost of unga, rent, fare and fees, among others. This way, we will reduce the cost of living,” Raila said.
He said many jobs were lost due to corruption.
“Corruption is one of nine items of our handshake with the President. We need to deal with it and focus on building Kenya."
He called on NASA supporters to start using products that the Opposition had singled out as being closely associated with Jubilee Party.
“We now remove the order and urge our supporters to buy products and do business with Safaricom, Bidco, Haco and Brookside. We forgive them in the spirit of the handshake,” Raila said.
Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli labelled the laws intended to remove FKE and Cotu from the boards of the National Social Security Fund and National Hospital Insurance Fund as "archaic, punitive and colonial".
“For the last three months that we have not sat on the boards of the two institutions, workers have lost Sh3 billion to looters who are still walking free. This is unacceptable. If you neglect workers, the economy will not grow and the Big Four agenda, which Cotu supports, will not be realised,” Mr Atwoli said.
He urged the President to intervene to see that the 18 per cent minimum wage increment he announced in 2017 was implemented.
“Some firms have not effected the 18 per cent salary increment as Government is yet to gazette the order. It means there are people who are keen on seeing the President fail by not taking his instructions seriously."
He said the economy grew by 5.7 per cent last year due to stability in the manufacturing, real estate, agriculture, finance and insurance sectors, but the gains could be eroded if workers’ rights were neglected.
“Corruption is a threat to our wellbeing. Last year, we lost Sh610 billion to corruption,” he said.