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Kenya Employers Call Planned Union Strike Illegal

  • Michael Onyiego

Kenyan protesters hold placards during a demonstration against food and fuel prices hikes in Nairobi, Kenya, April 19, 2011 (file photo).

Kenyan protesters hold placards during a demonstration against food and fuel prices hikes in Nairobi, Kenya, April 19, 2011 (file photo).

Kenya's employers are blasting a planned strike by the country's unions over the minimum wage. With groups demanding a raise to help meet the rising cost of living, employers are calling the actions illegal.

A standoff is developing between Kenya’s workers and Kenya’s employers over wages and the rising cost of living.

Kenya’s largest umbrella union, the Central Organization of Trade Unions, or COTU, is threatening a countrywide strike at the end of May if the government fails to raise the minimum wage by 60 percent.

At a Labor Day celebration on May 1, Labor Minister John Munyes announced an increase of 12.5 percent for the minimum wage.

However, COTU Secretary-General Francis Atwoli told the same crowd that nothing less than 60 percent would be acceptable, and promised action if the demand was not met.

Now Kenya’s employers are entering the fray. Speaking to Kenya’s NTV, the Federation of Kenya Employers called the planned strike illegal. The group's executive director, Jacqueline Mugo, called the planned strike "unfortunate" and said the unions had failed to consult the relevant stakeholders.

But a spokesman for COTU, Adamas Baraza, says the unions have every right to demand higher wages.

"First I just want to refer them to a very simple document, our new constitution, which says every worker has got the right to go on strike," he said. "So which illegality are they talking about? We are guided by the new labor laws. It says very clearly that a strike can be convened by giving seven days notice. But instead of giving a seven days notice. COTU has given a 21 days notice."

COTU has also dismissed claims that it cannot speak on behalf of workers in Kenya. The umbrella organization consists of 31 trade unions and has over 1.5 million members.

Baraza says the strike would begin on May 23 if the government failed to meet the 60 percent increase. He also said the strike would not consist of any demonstrations or public action, and reaffirmed that the organization was ready and willing to discuss the minimum wage with the Kenyan government.

The strike was called in response to rising fuel and food prices in Kenya over the past few months. Since the New Year, food prices have risen by an estimated 30 percent, and fuel prices are currently at an all-time high in the east African nation.

The May 1 announcement by Munyes brought the minimum wage in Kenya to about $90 per month, up from around $80.