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Workers walk out in protest

By Owino Opondo and Kipkoech Tanui, Daily Nation, Tuesday 2 May 2000

Labour Day celebrations in Nairobi ended in disarray when workers walked out en masse, protesting at a six per cent minimum wage increment given by the government.

It was a rude shock for Labour Minister Joseph Ngutu when disappointed unionisable employees trooped out of Uhuru Park immediately he announced the six per cent wage raise.

Wages for workers in the agricultural industry were increased by the same margin.

A gazette notice on the Statutory Minimum Wages Order is yet to be published to state when the new payments will be implemented.

This year's increase is one per cent lower than that announced during last year's Labour Day celebrations at the same venue.

At the time, the seven per cent award translated to an additional Sh140 per month for the lowest paid worker.

The infuriated crowd jeered and booed as they walked out of the grounds.

The salary award was not part of the minister's 29-page prepared speech.

The figure '6' was inserted with a black biro, an indication that it was an addition or afterthought.

"I am convinced that these changes will go a long way in cushioning the workers' purchasing power against inflation," he said at exactly 1.15 pm, to grumbles which started at the terraces and spilled over to the dais.

Mr Ngutu gave a number of factors he said were considered before giving the wage increment.

They included the need to match the award with the ability of employers to pay, inflation, economic performance and the quest to increase employment opportunities by keeping wages at par with productivity.

The crowd's expectation for a higher award had been built up by those who spoke before Mr Ngutu.

Central Organisation of Trade Unions deputy secretary-general Boniface Munyao said more than 50 per cent of Kenyan households were living below the poverty line.

Mr Munyao, who read a speech on behalf of Cotu secretary-general Joseph Mugalla, called on the government to put on hold retrenchment, saying it was not provided for in the labour laws.

Cotu expected at least an 11 per cent wage increment. National Development Party leader Raila Odinga proposed a 100 per cent increment.

Workers interviewed by the Nation called the six per cent increase "an insult".

Mr Munyao welcomed the increase: "We take what we have been given and will continue negotiating for more."

Federation of Kenya Employers chairman Hirji Shah said the raise was "a fair return" since it did not include the collective bargain agreements.

This page was last updated on Mon May 1 15:14:48 2000
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