Dry Labour Day as Yattani treads cautiously after Atwoli's 15 per cent pay gambit

COTU Secretary General Francis Atwoli. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

Most Kenyans look forward to Labour Day celebrations expecting the Government to increase their pay.

Nothing of that sort was announced from Uhuru Park this year.

During the 54th Labour Day Celebrations, Labour Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yattani said he would announce wage adjustments after reaching an agreement between workers’ unions and employees.

“We are still in the process of negotiating at the Wages Council between the employers and employees. We will discuss whether there is going to a wage increase next week,” Yattani said on behalf of President Uhuru Kenyatta.

On Saturday, the Central Organization of Trade Unions under its fiery and outspoken Secretary General Francis Atwoli had asked the government for a 15 per cent general wage increase in exchange for the union’s support of the proposed 1.5 per cent housing levy from salaries that has been suspended by the courts.

However, the Federation of Kenya Employees opposed the call for the pay hike arguing that Labour Day should not be used as an avenue for increasing wages.

During last year's Labour Day celebrations, President Uhuru Kenyatta, who was seeking a second term in office, increased lowest paid workers’ salaries by five per cent pushing it to Sh13,572 from Sh12,926. 

The President said the increase was to cushion Kenyans from inflation which stood at 4.8 per cent.

In 2017, the Atwoli asked the government to review salaries up by 22 per cent to ensure efficiency and a better lifestyle for the workers.

"When the economy is not growing, the Government should put up mechanisms to ensure its people are not starving and one of the ways is to improve remuneration for workers," Mr Atwoli said.

At the year’s Labour Day celebration, Atwoli had charmed the President for the increase.

“I know you, mimi nakujua sana. Kama umevaa hio designer suit, utatangaza kitu hapa. (I know you so well. If you have worn that designer suit, I know you will announce an increase)” Atwoli had cajoled the head of state.

When President Kenyatta stood to speak, he announced one of the highest minimum wage increases at 18 per cent which saw it jump from Sh12,600 to Sh15,372 a month.

In weeks leading to the 2016 Labour Day Celebrations, the ebullient Atwoli demanded a 40-per cent pay rise for Kenyan workers because “The country is losing billions of shillings in individuals’ pockets while Kenyan workers who are living in hardship are struggling to make ends meet.”

However, the government failed to announce an increment of the minimum wage during the celebrations.

In 2015, COTU pushed for a 20 per cent increase in the minimum wage in the weeks leading up to Labour Day.

That year during the celebrations, Atwoli told President Uhuru Kenyatta before a cheering crowd, “I know you love workers, we know for sure and we are convinced in your suit, there is something good for these workers”.

And to Atwoli and worker’s delight, President Kenyatta announced an increment in the minimum wage by 12 per cent.

In 2014, workers who had hoped for good news during the Labour Day celebrations wound up disappointed.

In 2013, Uhuru Kenyatta raised the lowest paid workers’ salaries by 14 per cent to Sh13, 674 up from Sh11, 995, less than three weeks after he took office.