More focus has been put on minimum wage, leaving out other equally important factors.

Labour Day, which was marked yesterday, has become an annual ritual. This comes with either a minimum pay increase or just policy pronouncement. Both are geared at helping workers, the men and women who toil in different sectors in what collectively makes this economy.

In an election year, a pay increase is a given. Other years presidents always accede to lobbying by private sector for a slow down on raising minimum wage.

In spite of the increases over the years, Kenyan workers remain a sorry lot. Frustrated by oppressive organisational HR policies and for the most part either underpaid or over worked. Also, the cumulative pay increases haven’t amounted to anything decent, with the minimum wage still hanging below Sh20,000. This is a shame for a country striving for middle-income status.

More focus has been put on minimum wage, leaving out other equally important factors. These workers – like their employers, political leaders and business people – survive under similar economic conditions. With their peanuts, they buy sugar, flour and soap at similar prices. In fact, most get commodities in smaller quantities that are highly marked up, which costs slightly higher than supermarkets.

Instead of giving these tiny pay rises (what, for instance, is 10 percent of Sh15,000?), the government should turn to making the Kenyan worker more comfortable. Can Sh1,500 really make a difference in the life of a worker with a family and school going children? The amount is loose change for most well-to-do people. It can only buy a kilo of sugar, five kg flour, two packets of milk and cooking fat.

One key area is policing employers to make sure they implement the minimum wage bill and pay requisite contributions like NSSF and NHIF. Besides, the government should ensure that workplace rights are respected and the working environment conducive. Some employers hire and f**e at will with little regard to compensation guidelines. Workman compensation is a privilege for many workers while protective gear cost is passed on to staff.

Employment terms have changed over the years and most companies prefer contracts, an exploitative model that leaves he work in a weaker position without pension. Freedom to join unions is a thorny issue in many organisations and those who defy the “rule” are punished with layoffs or lower salaries. Something must be done here.

Finally, make economic conditions favourable. Reducing the cost of flour alone doesn’t even begin to ease the household budget burden. The government should relook at the food basket and find a way to bring down the costs of various commodities including, sugar, salt, milk, rice, water and essential services like transport and airtime.


The writer is the Managing Editor of Business Today (www.businesstoday.co.ke). Email: [email protected] This article is also published in People Daily 2nd May 2017, edition.

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