Experts warn of long term corona effects on workers
By Allan Mungai | May 21st 2020
The end of the coronavirus pandemic might not mean an end to the devastation that the disease is causing at workplaces, experts in the labour sector have warned.
They say restarting the economy and revival of companies that have closed down as a result of the pandemic may lead to loss of more jobs even as Kenyans remain optimistic that the spread will be contained soon.
In a discussion of the state of the workplace during the coronavirus pandemic aired on KTN News on Tuesday night, representatives from the Federation of Kenya Employers and the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) said there could be further devastation even if the pandemic is arrested.
Grace Kanyiri, head of Industrial Relations and Legal Services at the FKE, said employers lacked safety nets against the pandemic that would impact heavily on laid off workers.
“Post-Covid-19 will be challenging because employers will be reviving businesses yet they do not have a cushion that they can fall back on,” said Ms Kanyiri.
Even grimmer, she said, the pandemic was revealing some of the weaknesses that could lead to further devastation for workers.
“Because of the coronavirus we are seeing some of the idle resources that we have. You have people at the workplace but what is their productivity? Employers will have to look at that,” Kanyiri said.
Erick Oduor, the secretary general of Kenya Union of Journalists said the sector was likely to experience widespread changes in terms and conditions of employment.
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The debate also involved representatives from the Ministry of Labour.
However, Labour Principal Secretary Peter Tum was optimistic that government efforts to mitigate job losses as a result of the pandemic would pay off.
“We have come up with guidelines that could be used by the employers and employees to guide how we will move forward post the pandemic," said Tum.
He added that the ministry had gone further to create an inter-agency committee that involved migrant workers.
But lawyer Hillary Kiplangat and Oduor, who represented Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli, said despite the pandemic, employers should not suspend employees' rights.
“There has been a disruption of many of the legal entitlement of employees but the pandemic is not an excuse for suspension of employee rights," said Kiplangat.
Odour said: “Employers should follow the procedure when making decisions to let go of workers and keep a continuous dialogue with the unions on how the job cuts will be effected to avoid taking disputes to court.”
He said close to 80 per cent of the membership of Cotu had lost their jobs.
But there was also concern that while the government had tried to mitigate job losses in the formal sector, it had done little or nothing for the informal sector where 83 per cent of working Kenyans fall.
Eng Tum said the government had identified 35 per cent of the informal workers in urban areas to enable the State cushion them.
"It should be an eye opener for the government so that they can think about coming up with different schemes to ensure that even employees in the informal sector are cushioned," Oduor said.
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