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Tax relief for low-income Kenyans welcome

COMMENTARY
By Francis Atwoli | May 23rd 2016
COTU Secretary General Francis Atwoli. PHOTO: FILE

The Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) applauds President Uhuru Kenyatta for his directive for a tax waiver on payments of overtime, bonuses and retirement benefits for low-income workers. Workers have suffered heavy taxation since 1994 and we appreciate his response to our needs as Cotu.

Cotu welcomes and considers the President’s directive a great offer and reward to Kenyan workers who will now enjoy a huge reprieve on their monthly as well as terminal benefits from the taxman. The waiver will go a long way in improving their welfare as well as cushioning them from harsh economic realities among other challenges as Cotu indicated on Labour Day.

During my address on Labour Day at Uhuru Park, I appealed to the Government to consider cushioning minimum-wage earners with an increment as well as reviewing the tax burden on workers as a whole.

The President's statement has gone a long way in addressing those concerns. As workers, we are delighted since the move attests to his commitment to the betterment of the Kenyans worker who will no doubt reciprocate the rare gesture, which came soon after we celebrated the 51st International Labour Day.

We appeal to the Government to consider Cotu as a social partner and not an enemy. The President’s gesture is commendable and Cotu and Kenyan workers now look forward to a total review of the minimum wage during next year’s Labour Day celebrations.

We also look forward to other leaders in the region and on the continent where I serve as the President of the Organisation of African Trade Unions (OATU) reviewing workers' wages and taking the cue from President Kenyatta to award tax waivers. Former International Labour Organisation Director General Brother Juan Somavia, in his address to the 87th International Labour Conference in 1999, defined decent work as "productive work in which rights are protected, which generates an adequate income with adequate social protection." It also means sufficient work in the sense that all should have access to income-earning opportunities.

It marks the high road to economic and social development, a road on which employment, income and social protection can be achieved without compromising workers’ rights and standards

Decent work must include the promotion of standards and fundamental principles and rights at work. Decent work cannot be achieved without sustainable jobs. As such, employment creation is a central objective in the promotion of decent employment.

Decent work must also comprise the enhancement of social protections that protect workers from the vulnerabilities and contingencies at work whether these arise from unemployment, loss of livelihood, sickness or old age and the strengthening of social dialogue. This is an ongoing process used to achieve conflict resolution, social equity and effective policy implementation. It is the means by which rights are defended, employment promoted and work secured.

As we applaud the President, there is need to create more job opportunities to provide a good working environment for Kenyan workers and also seek for more interventions that will protect those who are most vulnerable.

The President should also be commended for having presided over the 2015 International Labour Day celebrations at Uhuru Park, where he raised the minimum wage by 12 per cent to alleviate the plight of the lower strata of the Kenyan workforce.
But efforts to improve the welfare of the Kenyan worker through an increased wage should not be pegged on their productivity because there is no structured way of measuring it.

Today, Cotu (K) commands and enjoys a strong membership of over two million workers drawn from its 44 affiliated trade unions with an unmatched network locally and around the world.

All workers, and in particular disadvantaged poor workers, need representation, participation, and laws that work for the interests that Cotu has  jealously fought for over the years.

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