NAIROBI, Kenya May 1 – Thousands of Kenyans were on Sunday disappointed as the Labour Minister John Munyes announced a 12.5 percent raise in minimum wage against their 60 percent demand at Labour Day celebrations that was characterised by protests over high cost of living.
The celebrations held at Uhuru Park served as the melting point by Kenyans who felt that the government was not doing enough to cushion them against the effects of the rising inflation.
Mr Munyes urged the charged crowd to exercise tolerance and avoid confrontations as the government tries to solve the problems of the labour force.
“Bearing in mind that last year as the labour force we got 10 percent increment, together with the recent measures such as removal of excise duty on kerosene wheat and maize, the government is happy to announce a 12.5 increase in minimum wage,” he said.
Earlier COTU boss Francis Atwoli had cautioned the Minister against failing to live up to the expectations, something that the Minister seemed to have taken under advice, as his official speech show he planned to announce a 10 percent increase.”
His attempt to announce the increment was met by jeers from the crowd which was by then chanting as the walked away
Chants of Unga 30 bob! Unga 30bob! rented the air as speaker after speaker tried to address the unionisable workers.
Former Kabete MP Paul Muite and Kisumu East MP Shabir Shakeel were among the speakers who were forced to abruptly end their speeches after their voices were drowned by the chants.
The two speakers and acting Nairobi Mayor George Aladwa called on the two coalition leaders to show leadership and end the rising cost of living in the country.
Police also had a hectic time trying to control the crowd, which in a departure from recent times avoided a violent confrontation and only chanted while jumping at the public terraces.
Even, COTU Secretary General was not spared either by the workers who kept chanting the demand to have prices of essential goods such as maize meal and petroleum products reduced.
He claimed that a research by the union, indicated that the cost of living had soured by 60 percent on most essential commodities with a corresponding rise in inflation rate which has pushed the cost out of the reach of most Kenyans.
The vocal trade unionist appealed for essential commodities to be subsidisesd as well as pushing up the minimum wage by 60 percent and giving a general wage increment of at least 10 percent.
At one point he flatly told off the crowd saying: “I am trying to look out for your interests, so if you have to listen to me, I want you to receive better wages.”
Mr Atwoli used the occasion to caution the government against inaction as it could lead to the events happening in the Arab countries saying that the Kenyans were increasingly getting impatient.
The outspoken trade unionist also announced that COTU will on Tuesday hold a meeting where they will resolve to hold a silent protest to force the government to address the plight of the unionisable labour force.
“If the increment will not be satisfactory for these workers, then we will give government an official notice of holding a national strike by way of silent treatment here at Uhuru Park, and this will be endorsed during our May 21 annual congress to be held in Kisumu; we have the power, cause and the will,” Mr Atwoli said.
Mr Atwoli has declared his intention to run for presidency further hinted of a political alliance involving the trade unions, NGOs and Civil society organizations working in Kenya. He said a meeting is planned for this August.
On economic development, Mr Atwoli said there was an urgent need for the government to develop a Wages and Income Policy to reduce inequality and promote productivity.
He termed the Kazi Kwa Vijana initiative ‘a total failure’ as it was not thought out because the jobs which were created were not decent and didn’t have security.
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