LABOUR DAY

Labour Day: Protect workers amidst Covid-19 pandemic

We've seen many workers being laid off, contracts terminated and in some cases unfairly and unprocedurally dismissed

In Summary

• Due to the high cost of living and economic constraints as a result of Covid-19, Kenyans will expect more stimulus packages to stimulate the economy.

•  Workers also expect Cotu to address the issue of their health and safety.

Cotu secretary general Francis Atwoli and Labour CS Ukur Yattani during 2018 Labour Day celebrations
Cotu secretary general Francis Atwoli and Labour CS Ukur Yattani during 2018 Labour Day celebrations
Image: JACK OWUOR

May 1 is synonymous with the celebration of workers worldwide. We thus call it Labour Day. It has its origins in the union movement pushing for eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation, and eight hours for rest.

It is normally a colourful event, especially here in Kenya. 

However, most governments have cancelled the celebrations this year due to the coronavirus pandemic and the International Labour Organization conference that was to take place in June and the first of its kind has also been cancelled.

In a recent press briefing, Cotu secretary general Francis Atwoli said following the government's directives recommending people to stay at home and social distancing, the event had been cancelled. Nevertheless, most Kenyans still have many expectations from the government in the wake of this pandemic.

Due to the high cost of living and economic constraints as a result of Covid-19, Kenyans will expect more stimulus packages to stimulate the economy.

South Africa, for instance, has introduced several measures to assist the economy. These include provision of emergency water supply, increased sanitisation of public transport and facilities, and provision of food and shelter for the homeless.

A special Covid-19 social relief of distress grant to be paid to individuals who are currently unemployed has been provided, as well as a budget for the protection of jobs and to create opportunities amidst this pandemic.

They have also provided income support payments for workers whose employers are not able to pay their wages and a loan guarantee scheme to help businesses pay salaries, rent and suppliers.

We can borrow a leaf from them to cushion Kenyans and support businesses, thus mitigating the economic hit impact.

Workers also expect Cotu to address the issue of their health and safety. Every employer in Kenya should ensure their employees work in a conducive environment that meet the health standards as outlined in Article 41 of the Constitution, the ILO code of practice on the protection of a worker, the Workers, Benefits and Injuries Act(WIBA) and the Occupational, safety and health Act (OSHA).

The health and safety of workers more so, health workers who are on the frontline is indispensable.

Finally, yet importantly, workers will expect an asseveration on their constitutional rights and remedies as stipulated in the Employment Act and the ILO declaration on fundamental principles and rights at work.

We've seen many workers being laid off, contracts terminated and in some cases unfairly and unprocedurally dismissed in contravention with labour laws, conventions and treaties which Kenya is a signatory.

The government should also recognise all workers offering essential services during these times for the noble work they are doing towards the development and safety of the country.

Wangai is the national co-ordinator, Youth Senate Kenya