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Protect workers’ rights as coronavirus rocks economy

By People Daily
Thursday, April 2nd, 2020
Coronavirus. Photo/Courtesy

Kent Mukoya

The coronavirus pandemic  has rocked the world and the economy. A huge population of workers is operating from home.

For those still going to their workplaces , they are deeply concerned about their health at the workplace. 

As some sectors cease to operate during the crisis, some workers have lost their jobs while others have had their pay reduced. 

The human resource element as a key factor of production in the value addition chain process is clearly under threat.

As scientists continue the race to find a vaccine and/or cure, its disruptive consequences have already placed the global economy on a descending trajectory.

In developing and domesticating strategies to contain the spread of coronavirus, all stakeholders should be involved, including the government, employers through the Federation of Kenya Employers, the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, the Matatu Welfare Association and representatives of other key sectors of the economy.

Strategies to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the economy, job creation and protection and income generation should fully integrate the rights of employees through their respective unions’ representations. 

Crucially, in Kenya where more than 60 per cent of the population derive their livelihoods from agriculture, the strategies must involve associations, cooperatives and groups representing millions of smallholder farmers who make a significant contribution to the economy. 

They must also contain the informal sector, whose actors mainly comprise the youth.

The strategies adopted must recognise that the country’s greatest asset is its youth.

About 500,000 youths enter the labour market each year, and less than 30 per cent are in wage employment, while the rest are underemployed or in vulnerable employment. 

The annual gap of millions of jobs is going to worsen, with the number of youth expected to double in the next decades.

Unless employment opportunities are created for them, there is bound to be social, economic, political and security challenges. 

Everybody has to be included collectively and comprehensively to understand the social dynamics of the pandemic, the economic impact, and how it will affect development.

This tripartite approach ensures effective dissemination of   information and evaluates the impact of the information uptake towards achieving effective control, as well as providing perquisite data as precursor for ascertaining the gains made and for critical planning purposes. 

Trade unions should collectively be proactive and more visible in championing their members cause at workplaces in the wake of this pandemic. 

The provision of personal protective equipment and proper training on preventive measures are necessary as a short-term measure. Union stewardship should closely monitor the situation to ensure employers adhere to government directives. 

A budget should be sourced and provided from union monthly membership contributions to supplement government efforts during these exceptional circumstances.  

However, a review of existing social protection policy to address such emergencies and their impact on employees is a priority.  

Strategies to combat coronavirus and other emergencies must cushion employees against vulnerability to economic, social and the likely occurrences of natural shocks.   —The writer is a former secretary of the Kenya County Workers Union, Nairobi branch

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