Unions cause of wage disparities

Doctors and Nurses demonstrate at Mbale town in Vihiga County on Monday. /FILE
Doctors and Nurses demonstrate at Mbale town in Vihiga County on Monday. /FILE

The strength of professional unions, say of teachers, doctors and nurses, is clearly showing up in the way wages are distributed among employees of the national and county governments.

What this means is that because engineers, for instance, are fewer, they are usually not in positions where they are unionisable in government, they get meagre wages.

Nurses, yes they perform important roles, but basically, because they have strong unions, they get better pay. These powerful unions exert very painful pressure on the government until they get their way.

This tells us that the Salaries and Remuneration Commission needs to go back to the drawing board because it is not doing its job.

At the moment, the commission is not doing its role to help moderate the situation.

And if the commission fails to do its work, then it means that the more organised the professionals are, in terms of their ability to lobby and advocate for themselves, the more they will be able to get higher wages, even beyond growth rate or above what the market rate would otherwise be.

This kind of distortion will take place, not because other professionals like engineers are less valuable than say nurses, teachers or doctors, but because nurses' and doctors' work is more visible and they are also able to exert more pressure in a way that the government must listen.

If engineers in government went on strike today, unless it is Kenya Power, for instance, nobody may know even when they remain on the streets for months.

But when nurses go on strike today, tomorrow there will be no treatment in hospitals. The impact is very immediate.

So what the SRC, the county executives and assemblies must do, is that they must agree on what is an affordable wage rate that is reasonable and sustainable. Everybody should be paid well, but you cannot use all the money to just pay for wages.

At the national level, you hear members of parliament speaking that nurses should be added salaries. But they should remember that every coin they add to a nurse, reduces the money that should hire another teacher.

So basically this harmonisation is required and this is profoundly SRC's work but they have not done very well.

The chief executive officer of the Institute of Economic Affairs spoke to the Star