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No pay increase on Labour Day but talks ongoing: CS Yattani

Yattani

Labour Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yattani during Labour Day celebrations at Uhuru Park in Nairobi on May 1, 2019. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

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Summary

  • Turnout was low at the ceremony that took place at Uhuru Park in Nairobi, with Labour Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yattani giving the final address.
  • Mr Yattani said negotiations on the salary increment were ongoing and that an announcement would be made "soon".
  • This year's Labour Day came on the backdrop of the controversial 1.5 per cent housing levy which Cotu has supported after several months of opposition.
  • Workers were disappointed that politics dominated most of the international day's programme.

The Labour Day mood was dampened Wednesday as the government did not announce an increase in minimum or general wages as many expected.

Turnout was low at the ceremony that took place at Uhuru Park in Nairobi, with Labour Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yattani giving the final address.

President Uhuru Kenyatta did not attend the celebration whose guests included Francis Atwoli, Secretary-General of the Central Organization of Trade Unions.

Others were Kalonzo Musyoka, Wiper Democratic Movement leader; Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang'ula, Ford Kenya party leader; Musalia Mudavadi, leader of Amani National Congress; and at least 50 members of parliament.

Workers who spoke to the Nation earlier said the salary increment was their major expectation for the day.

They also complained about the government's inability to improve working conditions and salaries amid tough economic times, widespread corruption and more taxation through the 1.5 per cent levy for President Kenyatta's affordable housing plan.

In his address, however, Mr Yattani said negotiations on the salary increment were ongoing.

He said an announcement will be made "soon" following talks with the wages council.

Strikes

Mr Yattani said the ministry had put in place mechanisms to end Kenya's rampant cases of industrial action.

"Strikes have continued to deny Kenyans essential services, inflicting immeasurable suffering and inconveniences, not to mention the negative image they portray of the country as a shaky investment destination," he said.

He noted that labour plays a big role in the attainment of the Big Four Agenda, whose other pillars are food security, manufacturing and Universal Health Coverage.

Mr Yattani said that overall, the government was working towards creating one million new jobs in the manufacturing sector.

After the celebration ended, some workers said they were disappointed that politics dominated most of the international day's programme.

"It was more of a political rally. Our issues were not treated with the seriousness they deserve," said one Arthur Muhambe, who was at Uhuru Park.

The function was momentarily disrupted by youth on motorcycles who chanted Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko's name.

It was not clear what the rowdy youths, who wore T-shirts and banners bearing Sonko's image and name, wanted but they later left the venue.

Housing levy

This year's Labour Day came on the backdrop of the controversial 1.5 per cent housing levy which Cotu has supported after several months of opposition.

The union rejected the new levy in September 2018, terming it unconstitutional and arguing that workers and employers were not consulted.

But last Sunday, Mr Atwoli said Cotu would support the levy if the government increased their wages by 15 percent.

The umbrella workers' union has clashed with the Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE), which said it would oppose calls to raise the general minimum wage.  

The FKE gave the Labour Day celebrations a wide berth, with Chief Executive Officer Jackline Mugo, who usually attends, missing in action.