Nothing to celebrate this May Day

Today is Labour Day and I can attest that there is nothing to celebrate for the Kenyan worker.

The day is meant to rejoice the economic and social achievements of workers, but the Kenyan worker has achieved little since the last May Day celebrations.

The downturn in the global economy has further worsened the situation this year.

Massive job cuts have already been reported in local blue chip companies with some of them taking advantage of the recession to lay off workers despite surging productivity and an increase in corporate profits.

What is more surprising is that Labour Unions have remained quiet over the issue.

Wages haven’t been rising and workers have been losing their benefits e.g. health cover and other allowances.

As much as Parliament has enacted enabling workers’ laws for the observance of human and trade union rights, these laws have been "blatantly" abused by employers and investors.

Employers in the country have also been denying their workers a right to join the labour unions of their choice.

Some sections of the Labour Law have also been suspended, thus frustrating the gains that workers had achieved.

The recent weakening of the Work Injuries and Benefits Act after a ruling by Justice Jackton Ojwang is of great concern to the Kenyan worker.

The ruling struck down sections that provided for compulsory insurance for all employees against injuries and diseases contracted at the workplace, as well as predetermined amounts of compensation for any injury.

The government has also been seen to side with investors to exploit workers in the country. Some of the pending labour disputes have remained unresolved for many months.

Housing has remained unaffordable while the corporate elites enjoy the fruits of an endless supply of cheap labour that has kept wages at rock bottom.

Prices for basic commodities have almost doubled while their pay package has stagnated, leading to a decline in the standard of living for a majority of Kenyan workers.

Kenyans working in the Diaspora have also been rendered jobless by the economic recession and are returning to the country in droves; penniless.

The Kenyan worker is also staring at a sex boycott this week called by a group of women leaders over the failures of our political leadership. My take on this one – keep out of the worker’s bedroom, he already has a lot of issues to deal with.

Unfortunately, all the issues raised above do not stop many politicians and interest groups from exploiting the Kenyan workers’ situation to advance their own agenda.

My prayer is that voters should now see past this political hyperbole in the next general election.

COTU and its affiliate labour unions should also move away from the Labour Day parades and focus on empowering the Kenyan worker.

What is sad here is that the bigger problem for workers, of a living wage, is unlikely to be resolved in their working lifetime.

Now that is a cause worth not celebrating.

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