Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The government and Unions must act on the plight of workers

The sum total of better working conditions for employees is improved productivity, efficiency, a boost on craftsmanship, and love for duty. Well remunerated workers are less prone to theft, carelessness, deception, tardiness, negligence and mishandling of working tools. The aspect of employees’ rights requires a multipartite approach that encompasses: the government, Trade Unions, Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE), Human rights bodies and even the civil Society. Employees in the Civil Service, Sole Proprietorship, Private Institutions, Multinational Companies, and Public Corporations continue to face many challenges at the workplace. These includes: dismissals and terminations from employment on flimsy grounds, long working hours with low pay, poor safety gear especially in Steel and Chemical manufacturing firms, poor remuneration, and serving as casual for too long without being confirmed on permanent and pensionable terms. Women who form the bulky of employees in factories and EPZs are not given maternity leave; for them, getting a pregnancy is a self discharge from work. They suffer the worst harassment, intimidation and sexual overtures from male employers at the workplace. One expanding Supermarket chain in the Country pays their employees Kshs.1000 weekly instead of monthly; making it hard for them to save. It shows that this employer cares less about financial improvement for these workers. All workers are required to sign new contracts after every three months including those who have worked even for five years. The labour laws require an employee to be confirmed on permanent terms after serving between 3 to 6 months. In this Supermarket, employees are not allowed to join any Union or Cooperative Society. Those who express interest are sacked without notice. A friend of mine working in this establishment gave a narration that left me shuddered. It’s a cry from the Wilderness that requires urgent attention. He says that to prevent theft, employees are not allowed to go for lunch. Instead, they are provided with boiled maize popularly known as Githeri within the working premises. Before leaving for home in the evening, employees are subjected to the most a shaming physical search by security guards to ensure that they are not carrying any item from the shop. We call upon human rights groups and the Civil Society not shy away but to take the lead by exposing unscrupulous employers in our Country. Labour being one of the factors of production that affects any economy, the plight of Kenyan workers must be addressed urgently. That is why the government and the trade Union fraternity should urgently intervene and alleviate the deplorable conditions employees are going through in horticultural firms in Naivasha, Export Processing Zones (EPZ) especially in Mombasa and Nairobi , supermarket chains in our major urban centres and environmentally unfriendly working conditions at the Webuye Paper Mill in Western Province . The effluent emitted from the Paper Factory is a pollutant to water, soil and air that affects not only employees but also residents a round the firm. You can smell the stench when driving through the factory. Therefore, the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) should tour the factory and observe if it meets environmental standards and if not, shut it down the way they did to the abattoirs in Dogoretti and Kisii recently. As the government encourages foreign investment, it must also encourage the investors to reward Kenyan workers fairly. Most of the firms that violate the rights of workers are foreign owned; bringing to the fore the concern that foreign investment that we always cry for does not necessarily translate to an increase in the standard of living for our people. In the Civil Service, the government should boost the morale of workers by providing them with better pay, performance awards, inside growth and fringe benefits in order to achieve efficiency. In the private sector, the Ministry of Labour and Manpower Development must act tough on errant employers who violate labour laws by revoking their trading licences. On work safety as per the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers must liaise with The Ministry of Labour and Human Resources Development to train their employees on First Aid Skills, Cardio-Pulmonary –Resuscitation (CPR) and fire fighting. We have lost many lives at the workplace due to lack of these life saving skills amongst the employees. The Union fraternity in Kenya as failed to provide a sustainable and viable remedy to the plight of workers. Except the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) which is more vibrant and focussed in championing the rights of teachers, the Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU), an Umbrella of 42 registered Unions as failed to protect the interests of its members. The COTU Secretary General Mr. Atwoli is a talker not a doer. The government, COTU members and employers don’t take him serious. His predecessor; the late Joseph Mugalla was bold and candid in defending the workers. He should also borrow the example of KNUT secretary general the late Ambrose Adongo, who defended teachers with zeal and determination; leaving an indelible mark in the Union fraternity in our Country. The recent imbroglio about Rachael Lumbasyo’s sacking from NSSF and Atwoli’s reaction didn’t impress anybody. Kenyans expected him to exhibit the same passion when fighting for workers. To safeguard his legacy in COTU, Atwoli must detach himself from politics by fully immersing himself on fighting for the rights of workers especially the implementation of the new employment laws that are likely to alleviate the suffering of Kenyan workers. As a former Secretary of Kenya Plantation workers Union; an amalgam of COTU, he would have toured Nandi Hills, Sotik and Kericho tea plantations to preach harmony and reconciliation amongst the different communities who went for each other during the skirmishes of early this year. This is what leadership is all about. Workers problems are human rights issues that require equal attention like any vice in our society. We need to see equal attention and footage given on the plight of workers just like fighting HIV Aids, poverty and injustice. There is no way Kenya will become a working nation as per President Kibaki’s development slogan, if those currently in the job market work under dehumanising conditions with poor remuneration which makes them live from hand to mouth. Joseph lister Nyaringo Former Deputy Chief Shop steward Uchumi Supermarkets-Kenya
Post a Comment