Workers grapple with ravages of coronavirus

Silhouette of engineer and construction team working at site over blurred background sunset pastel for industry background with Light fair.[Getty Images]

Dennis Naibei was a high-flying site agent with Vista Windows, a manufacturer and supplier of Unplasticized Polyvinyl Chloride (uPVC) products (plastics). He was young in the job but had his sights on becoming the best in an industry he was enthusiastic about.

Then Covid-19 came, sending a lot of activity into a shuddering halt.

“The construction industry was affected massively. There were few ongoing projects after Covid-19 started spreading like a wildfire, which meant that there was no work for me. I had to leave the company.”

Naibei, a civil engineer, left his position in July 2020.

For three long months, he went out job hunting. Luckily, he got a job as a casual labourer in a construction company. “For two weeks, I worked in a mjengo. I was making Sh600 per day. At that point, all I was thinking about was food, nothing more. I was staying at a friend’s house,” he says.

He spent a lot of his time in the house reading and trying to improve on his design skills, hopeful that he would secure another job sooner or later. Then it came -- a road project in Homa Bay County. The project accommodated him as a civil engineer trainee.

“I had to downgrade to an intern. That was what was available for me, and you take what is available in such instances,” says Naibei.

But the project had problems and it ultimately stalled. “We are currently not at work but we hope that once the budget is read, we shall resume work,” he says.

Naibei also notes that the stalling of projects -- he says many in the construction sector stalled - has had “a great impact on me and other Kenyans in the construction industry”.

He is currently surviving on online work and “other hustles”.

On March 25, 2020, President Uhuru Kenyatta directed that the National Treasury implements a raft of reliefs that would increase the disposable incomes of Kenyans.

These included a 100 per cent tax relief for persons earning gross monthly income of up to Sh24,000, a reduction of Income Tax Rate (Pay-As-You-Earn) from 30 per cent to 25 per cent and a reduction of Resident Income Tax (Corporation Tax) from 30 per cent to 25 per cent. 

But these measures have since been lifted. VAT has since returned to 16 per cent as other reliefs expired around the turn of the year. A battered Kenyan population, sent out of jobs as the economy floundered, is now left without any relief.

Federation of Kenya Employers estimates that between March and August 2020 alone, over five million people in the informal sectors lost jobs.

It has been turbulent for those who lost their jobs, and for those who retained theirs but with reduced salaries, for some barely enough for food. Even for those who were self-employed, businesses suffered as global supply chains, alongside people’s spending power, were hurt.

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