Why there will be no pay rise
Published on May 2, 2008, 12:00 am
President Kibaki’s blunt admission that the Government could not increase workers’ pay exposed the financial problems plaguing the coalition Government.
The President, in an almost imploring tone at the end of his speech, told hundreds of workers who had turned up at Nairiobi’s Uhuru Park, where traditionally a Labour Day wage increase is pronounced, that the Government was in deep financial trouble.
|A security company group during the Labour Day celebrations in Nairobi.|
But leaders from across the country, who reacted to the President’s admission, said the Head of State was to blame for apportioning priority elsewhere, particularly on a bloated Cabinet, instead of focusing on workers hard hit by runaway inflation.
Leaders said the Government had plunged itself in a crisis by constituting a huge Cabinet that would guzzle funds needed at the expense of ordinary Kenyans. It has been dislcosed that new ministries that raised the Cabinet portfolios to 42 would require an additional Sh22 billion in two months alone, which would have to be voted by Parliament in a mini-Budget because it was not factored in last year’s budget.
Runaway inflation, occasioned partly by post-election violence, had made matters worse, said the leaders, who argued that workers could do with the most minimum increment to cushion them against inflation.
Also cited as stretching the Government resources were post-election effects, including the resettlement of displaced people.
Other effects of post-election crisis cited as weighing heavily on the Government include a projected failure by the Kenya Revenue Authority to hit targets owing to a slowdown by the January skirmishes.
Minimum wage policy
Finance minister, Mr Amos Kimunya, has projected a significant drop in economic growth this year.
A minimum wage policy, which has long been proposed by Cotu, and other labour laws are yet to come into effect.
The last time the Government increased minimum wages for workers was in 2006 when the President announced a 12 per cent increase. The President did not announce any increase last year, but he spelt out measures meant to improve workers’ welfare, including housing and security.
Labour minister, Mr John Munyes, referred to that promise when he vowed that the Government would implement the five key labour laws that the President referred to last year.
Addressing the crowd at Labour Day celebrations at Uhuru Park, Munyes said his ministry would set up the National Labour Board as provided for in legislation to oversee implementation of the labour laws.
Leaders who spoke included Cotu Secretary-General, Mr Francis Atwoli, who reacted furiously against failure by Kibaki to raise the minimum wage.
He had in his speech asked the Government to come up with a standard minimum wage for workers.
Atwoli said: “The Government has a responsibility to take care of workers who are not represented by trade unions by setting a minimum wage. This would cushion them against rising inflation and enhance productivity at the work place,” he said.
After he hosted President Kibaki to a Cotu luncheon at The Stanley hotel, Atwoli said: “The Government cannot run away from the responsibility to improve the welfare of workers.”
He asked the Minister for Labour to convene a tripartite meeting among the Government, Cotu and the Federation of Kenya Employers to address the minimum wages’ issue.
He termed “erroneous” pegging salary increase to productivity.
Mr Hassan Omar, a Commissioner of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, said it was sad that politicians “were only interested in filling their stomachs and forgetting the workers”.
“There was expectation that Kenyans would receive a pay hike due to inflation which stands at 23 per cent. It is very sad that we can manage a Cabinet of 42 ministers and forget about the taxpayer,” said Omar.
The Executive Director of the International Centre for Policy and Conflict, Mr Ndung’u Wainaina, said President Kibaki was disconnected with the plight of the workers.
“There is no policy governing minimum wage in the country. Workers are at the mercy of politicians who treat such increments as token,” he said.
The East Africa Law Society (EALS) defended the Government move not to award a salary increase, saying it was not possible due to huge finances needed for the bloated Cabinet and resettlement of IDPs.
EALS president, Mr Tom Ojienda, said the Government had to focus on making the grand coalition work, IDPs resettled and the economy to be on the recovery track following the post-election violence.
“We did not expect a pay hike unlike previous Labour Days due to the state of the nation,” he said
Mombasa Catholic Archbishop Boniface Lele said Kenyans should give President Kibaki more time to put the coalition Government in order.
“The hefty salaries ministers and MPs earn are a big burden to the ordinary Kenyan,” Kalu said.
The Chairperson of the Federation of Kenya Employers, Mr Patrick Obath, who is away on an official trip in Ghana, said he would react to the President’s Labour Day speech when he returns to the country next week.
Reporting by Evelyn Ogutu, Amos Kareithi, Elizabeth Mwai, Susan Anyangu, Philip Mbaji
And Harold Ayodo.