Secretary-General of COTU, Bwana Francis Atwoli,
Workers of Kenya,
We have set this day aside to celebrate your contributions and achievements in building this great nation. Every man, woman and child knows what your work means to all of us. For everyone who has been to school, who eats, has shelter, and the support we give one another, in times of celebration or mourning, there is a worker to thank.
There is no achievement our nation can count, no vision for the future we have, that does not have the worker at its centre. Today we celebrate you; today the fruit of your labour fills every heart with thanksgiving.
On behalf of all Kenyans, many of them too young to talk, I thank every Kenyan worker. For you getting up early in the morning and committing yourself to your job. Whether on a farm under the hot sun, in a factory or behind the wheel of a car, you carry our country on your back and for that we appreciate and praise you.
We should never forget during this occasion that we are an independent nation because, our workers and the labour unions played a significant role in the struggle to liberate our nation.
While some patriots fought for our freedom from the forests in the 1950s, their colleagues fought using labour activism and unions. The demand for ‘equal pay for equal work’ was a rallying call against the oppression of colonial rule. Kenya’s workers will forever be counted as having been indispensable to our independence struggle.
We celebrate the leaders of the most active unions in the struggle for our independence. Some of the great figures include: Tom Mboya; Makhan Singh; and the late Dennis Akumu, who so sadly left us last year.
Today, I am joined by the present generation of union leaders, who, I am sure, take pride in the profound patriotism that those before them displayed. This is a different era but one just as important.
We still have ahead of us the great task of building a prosperous Kenya that feeds its people, provides decent and affordable healthcare and provides decently paying jobs to every Kenyan who wants to work.
As an independent country, our founding fathers often reminded us that we can’t prosper unless we worked hard to build the bright future our freedom promised.
The founding father of this nation often warned us, making it clear that freedom did not mean that wealth would automatically pour down from the sky. He urged us to work hard with our hands to rid our new nation, of poverty, ignorance and disease.
Today we are slightly over fifty years as an independent nation and, indeed, big achievements are notable behind our work. We live longer today than we did at the dawn of our country. We are far more educated and knowledgeable.
Kenyans are used to competing against the best in the world, whether as athletes or scholars or business innovators. We have managed to build the largest and most vibrant economy in the region, if not in the African continent. Nonetheless, let us be clear, our work is incomplete though. There is still a lot of poverty, ignorance and disease challenges requiring more work for us to conquer them.
As your President, I have spoken to workers from every part of our country. I have also heard of the urgent appeals from many Kenyans, who are looking for jobs and better livelihoods without success. I understand how difficult it is for many Kenyans. To afford educating a child well, to put food on the table and a roof over the heads of your family.
Your struggle to provide, while working hard and hoping and praying for the best is always on my mind.
My foremost task, and that of my Administration, is to ensure that we are developing a growing economy that produces good jobs in large numbers and improved livelihood opportunities.
That is why we are aggressively pursuing a transformative strategy to ensure rapid socio-economic development. Our work on building new roads, a world-class railway, and the expansion of our ports and airports. Our rapid lowering of barriers to trade and investment.
Our insistence on improving the quality of education by having the most honest exams in decades, eliminating exam fees and accelerating vocational training.
All these efforts, and many others we have undertaken, are motivated by one thing alone. To build a prosperous economy that allows you to earn decent wages and creates jobs for those who want to work. Available evidence shows that we are managing to create a large number of jobs.
In just the last full year, wage employment in Kenya has grown by over 11 per cent increase. Behind this number are stories of tens of thousands of workers learning trades, becoming self-reliant, and giving hope to their families.
More jobs are on the way. The worker and the employer are like two sides of a coin. They depend on one another, and should rise together. My Administration’s reforms and investments will make us even more attractive to domestic and foreign investors, which will, therefore, produce more jobs.
In the meantime, my Administration, alongside the trade unions and the Federation of Kenyan Employers, is building a Kenya Labour Market Information System.
It will be a one-stop shop for finding and advertising work that will also let us respond practically to your needs for training so that you can advance in your career.
Our workers deserve to work in safe conditions. That is why my Administration has reconstituted the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health. It will defend the rights of workers in the workplace by monitoring the compliance by employers.
We have also revitalized the National Labour Board and a number of Wages Councils. We now have two new wages Councils: the Building and Construction Industry and Private Protective Security Services. We are hopeful they will improve working conditions in the respective sectors.
We are keen to help you, our workers, to know your rights under the law. Together with COTU and FKE, we have developed a mobile labour law application that can be accessed online and on phones.
The demand for the skills, hard work and honesty of our people has enabled many of our workers find jobs in foreign countries. Majority have a positive experience and help send home remittances that are a major part of our economy.
But I would like to say, we are well aware, as a Government, these workers’ rights are sometimes abused when working abroad. Indeed, there have been distressing incidents when Kenyan workers have been exploited and abused.
To protect this category of workers, my Administration has streamlined the registration and management of foreign employment agencies. I strongly urge every Kenyan going abroad, to use the approved agencies. You should also make sure that you register at the Kenyan Embassy serving the foreign country you are in.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As our educational quality and access improves as a result of the efforts my administration has made, even more jobs will beckon outside the country.
We are in a region whose economies are growing strongly, and in which our workers have a top-rate reputation. My Administration will continue making it a key foreign policy goal to ensure that your venturing abroad to earn a living is as safe as possible.
Even as we take care of existing workers and work on job creation for those without jobs, we should not forget the workers who have retired.
We have expanded the cash-transfer programmes for the elderly: every Kenyan who is 70 years old and above is now eligible.
We are also concerned with workers who fall ill or are injured. I know how much hospital bills can cripple families, and even drive them to bankruptcy. That is why we have reformed the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) and the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF). The number of Kenyans receiving health care through them has risen sharply.
It will not be too long before every Kenyan has access to healthcare insurance.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
My Administration is building on our regional leadership in technology. We have launched the Ajira Digital Programme to introduce young people to online work while providing training and mentorship. This will continue opening up a worldwide employment market while ensuring that our youth keep building skills that allow them to raise their incomes steadily.
World class technology companies are establishing their regional and continental headquarters in Kenya. They are doing this because they know our people are by far the most competitive in the region, and are increasingly world class in significant numbers.
My Administration is investing in the infrastructure to attract even more international technology firms, while encouraging the start-up and growth of local ones.
We have approved Sh40 billion for the development of the Konza Technopolis infrastructure. Construction is underway. Konza will generate at least 16,000 direct jobs as it is built, and over 200,000 upon completion. We have followed this with a grant for the establishment of a post-graduate university at Konza – Kenya Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. It will help produce the highly qualified scientists and engineers who will transform our economy.
I understand that you want to have more disposable income to be able to meet your families’ needs. I am aware the workers on the lower income bracket are struggling to afford basic necessities. It is not fair that they should be taxed heavily. Over the last two years, my Administration has progressively increased tax brackets and has cut tax rates for workers on lower income brackets. Today the minimum taxable income is Sh13,475 rising from S11,000.
Workers: your dedication and hard work is appreciated by a grateful nation. We understand your daily struggles too and are working hard to tackle these challenges. We know that for two straight years, we have not increased the minimum wage. So, after consultation with key stakeholders, I have directed that the minimum wage be increased by 18 per cent.
In addition, we have increased the non-taxable bonuses and overtime to Sh100,000.
I know that employers are concerned about increased wages and its impact on the economy. I have asked the Cabinet Secretary for Industrialisation to urgently convene a meeting with the stakeholders so that we can explore measures to cushion them from costs associated with non-labour factors.
Your work is building a vibrant Kenya. We need to stay the course. What every country that has emerged from widespread poverty to an inclusive prosperity possesses, is decades of peace and stability. Jobs and incomes never rise when conflict and intolerance are a frequent occurrence. That is because anyone building a factory or a restaurant or any other kind of business, needs to have faith that there will be peace and security.
As we enter the election season, we must remember that violence and discord has always been at the expense of the worker. They have led to layoffs, lack of investment, and suffering. Compare that with those rich countries in parts of Asia whose economies were even smaller than ours fifty years ago.
They managed to hold on to their peace and stability over long periods of time. We have built a good foundation to transform our country, and in the last four years we have laid the necessary foundations for a rapid upward rise.
All we need to do to realize and sustain our dream of a prosperous equitable Kenya is to make sure our politics do not drag us down. I urge every Kenyan to embrace peace and reject those who make their politics through division and incitement.
May God bless you, and your families, and may he bless the work of your hands.