Kenya marks Labor Day with workers pondering pandemic effects

2021-05-01 14:55:29 GMT2021-05-01 22:55:29(Beijing Time) Xinhua English

NAIROBI, May 1 (Xinhua) -- Unpaid leave, restructuring, pay cuts, redundancies and work from home are some of the phrases featuring Kenyan workers as they join the rest of the world in celebrating Labor Day on Saturday.

While the labor-related phrases have been in Kenya for years, the COVID-19 pandemic has entrenched them into the east Africa nation's job market.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Kenya in March 2020, many workers have lost their jobs while others have been sent on unpaid leave or have taken pay cuts of up to 60 percent.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics latest data puts the number of people who have lost their jobs since the onset of the pandemic at about two million.

The pandemic has upended Kenya's labor sector, on one side making employers resort to various measures like salary cuts to stay afloat and on the other, workers clinging on hope as jobs become scarcer.

A s the world marked Labor Day on Saturday, there were muted celebrations in the East African nation.

This is partly because public gatherings remained banned to curb the spread of COVID-19 and second, the pandemic has disrupted the labor market, leaving many workers struggling to survive.

"There is little to celebrate about this Labor Day," Caroline Makuyu, who works at a logistics firm at Kenya's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, said in a phone interview.

"The last one year has been tough because of the pandemic and things don't look any better as the disease continues to spread locally and globally," she added.

Before the pandemic, Makuyu used to work full-time and would get her full pay.

"But we have now been put in shifts. I go three times a week and we are paid depending on the revenue generated by the company that month. There is no fixed salary," said Makuyu, with her predicament reflecting that of tens of thousands of other Kenyans.

Makuyu is grateful though that she has kept her job as some of her friends, especially in Kenya's hospitality sector have lost their jobs.

This year's Labor Day theme is "maintaining safety and security at the workplace", however, thousands of workers in Kenya cannot resonate with it since they work from home.

"My bedroom is now my workplace," said Brian Kimala, who works from home. He works with a leading telecom company and for the last one year, he has never stepped into the office.

"So if I am told to maintain safety at the workplace, I don't get it because there is no workplace for me in the first place," he said.

In his address to the nation, President Uhuru Kenyatta acknowledged that the economy has slowed down, jobs have become scarcer and the informal sector has shrunk.

Amid declining infections, Kenyatta on Saturday reopened bars and hotels, reduced curfew hours and lifted movement restrictions in five counties, handling thousands of workers in the transport and hospitality sectors a lifeline.

Ernest Manuyo, a business lecturer at Pioneer Institute, observed that the pandemic has altered Kenya's job market. "Even after the pandemic is surmounted, work from home or teleworking would remain the norm. Employers would certainly continue with some of the practices picked during the pandemic," he said. Enditem