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Reforms needed in Kenya to guarantee workers human rights

ICFTU Oline..., 025/000102/DD, 1 February 2000

Brussels February 1 2000 (ICFTU OnLine): Kenya urgently needs to complete its labour law reforms to bring its law and practice into full compliance with ILO Conventions. An ICFTU report produced to complement the WTO's trade policy review of Kenya says that the government must ratify the ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of Association, and must amend national existing laws on the basis of ILO recommendations to provide freedom of association to Kenya's workers.

In theory all employees in enterprises of seven workers or more can join or form trade unions; however there have been problems with registration, particularly in the public sector. The Trade Union Registrar has refused to register or has de-registered unions of national government employees, university staff, doctors and dentists, thus denying them the right to belong to unions. This also applies in export processing zones where, in theory, workers are allowed to join unions, but again have been prevented from doing do.

Unions have the right to strike in Kenya, but the mediation process required by the government takes so long that this often provokes strikes, which the government then declares are illegal, as happened in recent years with nurses, teachers and bank workers.

The Constitution of Kenya prohibits discrimination. Unfortunately its provisions are not enforced effectively, and women experience legal and actual discrimination, and, as is the case with most countries world-wide, they occupy less well-paying jobs then men. Women are concentrated in the informal sector and account for 70 - 80 percent of those involved in the country's petty trading sector.

The ICFTU says to correct this the government should pass domestic enabling legislation, as well as enact the National Council for Gender Development Act, a new law which has been recommended by the Kenyan Task Force on Laws Relating to Women.

UNICEF estimates that there are six million child workers in Kenya, and the ILO reported that in 1995 an estimated 41.3% of children aged 10 - 14 were working, many in the coffee, sugar and rice plantations and in mining. There is a high school drop out rate for secondary school children, because of the prohibitive costs for most families.

These problems have been exacerbated as a result of policies recommended under the structural adjustment programmes agreed with the international financial institutions. The ICFTU says that the efforts now been undertaken with the ILO must be maintained and intensified to eliminate child labour.

The ICFTU says that the WTO should draw the Kenyan authorities' attention to the commitment they made to observe core labour standards at the Singapore and Geneva WTO Conferences. The ICFTU adds that the WTO should request the ILO to work closely with the Kenya government to implement legislative changes and bring in practices to bring it in line with these standards.

International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) Boulevard Emile Jacqmain 155, B - 1210 Brussels, Belgium. For more information please contact: Luc Demaret on: 00 322 224 0212 - press@icftu.org