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Jobs: Only innovative thinkers will survive

By Allan Mungai | May 19th 2020

Workers from Ruaraka Industrial Area cross a bridge on Outer Ring Road. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to batter the economy leading to loss of thousands of jobs, companies must come up with innovate ways to survive the turbulent times. 

The reality of the labour sector in the pandemic period is depressing - job cuts, unpaid leaves and salary reductions have become the norm. 

Industry players, however, say there might be a silver lining to the pandemic for workers who are joining the job market.

Grace Kanyiri, the head of Legal Services at the Federation of Kenya Employers, said the market will be more welcoming to people who are innovative thinkers and can find opportunities in times such as these.

Despite the hard times, most firms have embraced virtual business and IT and are thriving.

Ms Kanyiri is advising employers that even if they are sending employees on unpaid leaves, they should still meet the statutory obligations such as contributing to the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) and National Social Security Fund (NSSF). 

The Retirement Benefits Authority (RBA) has given the green light for companies that are heavily impacted by the pandemic to apply for suspension of employer retirement contributions to pension schemes until the coronavirus pandemic eases.

According to Kanyiri, the variation of these pension benefits are not automatic.

"It is a discussion that every employer who is unable must have with RBA. It depends on the facts that are presented before RBA; there are some they are allowing and some they are disallowing," she said.

"Yes, workers will be eating into their benefits but it is only for a duration. It will mean only a temporary interruption into your pension benefits. It is an unfortunate situation that is bringing us to our knees. Unfortunately we might all have to feel the impact of this pandemic."  

The government estimates that the economy will shed more that 500,000 jobs in the coming six months due to the coronavirus pandemic, a stark number in a country where 39 per cent of youth are unemployed. 

A report released earlier this month by Stanbic Bank and IHS Markit, a data firm, following a survey of the business conditions in the Kenyan private sector, said Kenyan firms shed jobs at the highest rate since January 2014 as companies cut jobs and wages to lower their operating costs.

"Kenyan businesses saw activity decline sharply in April amid the coronavirus disease pandemic. Output fell at a record pace as firms were hampered by falling demand, input shortages and lockdown restrictions. Workforces were cut, with businesses also lowering wages in an effort to keep costs subdued as revenues deteriorated," the report said.

Among the measures the Ministry of Labour has recommended to stem further devastation of the economy include suspension of negotiation of Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs), freezing wage increments in the next 12 months, sending workers on annual leave and unpaid leave as stop-gap measures, creation of mechanisms that allow workers to work from home, work in shifts and leverage on the use of technology.

The hardest hit are workers in the informal sector, majority of who may not have any safety nets against the pandemic.

"The virus came at a time when the economy was under-performing, a lot of organisations are downsizing and employers are getting rid of employees in areas which are less productive," said Hillary Lang'at, a lawyer.

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