Unions, FKE reject radical pro-workers Bill

Bata stewardship marching with their merchandise dummy on 1st May 2022 at Nyayo National Stadium on Labour Day celebrations in Nairobi. [Edward Kiplimo,Standard]

Proposals by Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei to amend the Employment Act, 2007 to protect employees from working beyond the stipulated working hours has drawn the ire of trade unions.

The Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) has reject the idea on grounds that it could lead to job losses and scare away investors.

Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli, in an interview yesterday in Nairobi, said the proposed Bill is retrogressive in nature and asked the Nandi senator to drop it altogether. 

According to Atwoli, if the Bill becomes law, employers will use the opportunity to casualise all jobs and leave everyone in jeopardy.

“Even in the developed world, many people work overtime to make extra coins. When they leave their work stations, they go and work elsewhere. The Bill is not progressive to a developing country like Kenya and we reject it in totality,” said Atwoli.

He added: “Overtime issues are well gazetted per sector per grade as per the Collecting Bargaining Agreement (CBA) or terms of reference the employee entered into with the employer at the time of employment. It is therefore not the responsibility of the government to regulate the relationship between the employer and the employee.”

In his proposed amendments to the Act, Senator Cherargei is seeking to have employers barred from interfering with employees’ personal private time by requiring them to work over time. The Bill that seeks to have Section 27 of the Employment Act, 2007 amended, will give employees the right and freedom not to engage in work related matters with their employers past working hours.

Atwoli argues that the idea will interfere with essential services and the country’s bid to promote a 24 hour-working economy.

According to the Cotu boss, overtime issues are well gazetted and it is not the duty of the government to regulate how an employer relates the employee.

He expressed fear that the Bill will scare away investors who will move to other countries where labour is deemed cheap and subsequently widen the unemployment gap in Kenya. He urged Cherargei to consult widely.

At the same time, Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) President Jacqueline Mugo said the amendments being pushed by the outspoken Nandi Senator will effectively empower workers to ignore work-related calls and emails when not on duty. She said it will lead to poor industrial relations between employers and the employees. According to Mugo, the Bill fails to meet the International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions since if passed, it will create two centres of power and bring disharmony and indiscipline at work places.

But Cherargei dismissed Cotu and FKE saying the two organisations are serving the interests of multi-million organisations and that they do not have the interests of Kenyan workers at heart.

“The Bill is seeking to protect employees from work-related burnouts, stress and depression. It also wants to protect employers from eating into the privacy of family time which must be protected and ensuring that those working virtually off duty and past working hours are paid for work rendered,” said Cherargei.

He said: “Cotu and FKE should fight for workers rights and stop protecting giant companies.”

“The amendment will sail through and nothing will stop us from passing it as that is where the world is headed. If the employee calls the boss past 5pm, what will he feel? That’s what we want to stop and if the employer assigns staff work past that time, he must compensate for that extra working hours,” the senator added. 

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