Hon Tim Wanyonyi, MP, Westlands Constituency
Most trade unions in Kenya among them Kenya National Union of Teachers, Kenya Union of Post Primary Teachers and unions representing medical workers have already led their members in strike action or have threatened to down their tools and disrupt service delivery in their respective areas. Teachers and medical workers play a very important role in the society and economy and whenever their interests are threatened then all other sectors of the economy are adversely affected. Since independence, workers in Kenya especially those employed by Government have had numerous industrial actions to agitate for better pay and better working conditions.
The response by the Government to these industrial actions has not helped resolve the workers issues over time. The Constitution under Article 41 gives the Kenyan worker a right to fair labour practices, right to fair remuneration, right to reasonable working conditions, right to form, join or participate in the activities and programs of trade unions and the right to go on strike. Other than the Constitution, there are other labour laws dealing with various labour relations. There regulations were reviewed and enacted by 2007. The laws include the Employment Act, Labour Relations Act, Labour Institutions Act, Work Injury Benefits Act and Occupational Safety and Health Act. These laws set the stage on how labour disputes should be handled in Kenya.
The review of the national labour laws had a concern to the workers and Kenyan public a long time and it was hoped that the frequent strikes by civil servants would be averted through a new legal framework. Kenyans were optimistic that these laws would deal with contemporary economic and social changes.
The frequent strikes by teachers and medical workers not only affect the individual workers, students and patients but Kenya generally since citizens depend on the services of teachers and medical officers. Some strikes have been effective in resolving the grievances of the workers yet this has been after unnecessary struggles and cost. Lives have been lost, revenues have suffered and learning hours have been wasted.
Many of the strikes in the public sector are driven by wage disputes. Often, the Government is viewed as discriminatory in the way it has been awarding wage increases to the public servants. The Government has also reneged on the many promises it has made of wage increases or reforms to teachers and other public servants stating that the increments would balloon the wage bill as it stands. The health sector also needs reforms to improve the conditions of work for health workers as the National and many County Governments seem to have failed to deal with it.
President Kenyatta’s Government is to blame for the wave of labour strikes and threats to strikes that have been paralyzing public sector services. The government is responsible for ensuring that resources are prioritized and shared fairly across sectors and that public servant wages are synchronized equitably. In Kenya, some unnecessary disruptions to the provision of public services could be avoided if wage increases for all civil servants were factored in from the onset of budgeting process.
The rising number of strikes in Kenya is a wake-up call for both the national and county governments to consider looking at the labour market with a renewed interest in implementing the laws governing the collective bargaining agreements with a view to integrating and streamlining the work of the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC). The Government also needs to revise and facilitate the review of minimum wages, wage increases and dispute resolution policies in line with Constitution and the latest economic developments in Kenya and international standards. This is to ensure fairness and equity. It is also to ensure that essential and emergency services do not break down and adversely affect people’s lives. Finally, there is need to deliberately incorporate wage increase policies in the national and county budgeting process. These would go a long way in minimizing strikes in Kenya.
Hon Tim Wanyonyi is the MP, Westlands Constituency in Nairobi.