The current climate of industrial unrest by some workers in the public sector comes at a challenging time when the country is facing drought and famine, and heightened insecurity and political environment.
This does not augur well for an economy that is seeking to hit a double-digit growth rate.
Prolonged strikes by public sector workers not only disrupt the essential services desired by wananchi, but can, in the short and long-term, harm the country’s international investment reputation. This is costly and detrimental to the economy.
As the country grapples with the strikes, the role of the Salaries and Remuneration Commission has been questioned, including the legality of its formation.
Some have claimed that the commission is an impediment to justified demands by workers, by wilfully denying them wage increases.
The latest accusation levelled against the SRC is that it has overstepped its mandate and has become a tool to quell trade union activities.
Do these accusations have any basis? The commission was established, in Article 230 of the Constitution, with the objective of bringing sanity and order in the management of public wage bill.
The teachers, doctors, lecturers, among others, have in the recent past demanded salary increments in the region of 300 per cent.
This is coupled with salary increase demands by public officers in state corporations and the political class push for send-off packages, which have put pressure on the government.
Even if the government could loosen the purse strings in the face of such an onslaught, it would have absolutely little room for manoeuvre.
Currently, the government is spending Sh627 billion (about 50 per cent) of the total revenue on wage bill, thereby; the single largest government’s expenditure item.
Let’s pause and ask ourselves in the wake of the huge salary demands, how would the situation be like today if the salaries increases were to be met?
Assuming we settled for a 100 per cent increase across the board for all the public officers, this would translate into more than Sh1 trillion.
This against Kenya’s revenue of Sh1.3 trillion is not only unsustainable, but a recipe for the collapse in the economy.
Is this the direction Kenya wants to go? A consuming society? Do we want Kenya to go the Greece or The Democratic Republic of Congo way?
Do we want to live beyond our means? Do we want to accumulate further debts, suffer uncontrollable inflation, and devalue the currency in the name of enhancing remuneration and benefits to unprecedented percentages?
Just what was in Wanjiku’s (ordinary Kenyan’s) mind when the country voted for a new Constitution that saw the establishment of the SRC as one of the Chapter 15 commissions?
Wanjiku yearned for development; good roads, hospitals, education and other amenities. This is only possible through a sustainable wage bill.
Granted, salary is an emotive issue and can be quite volatile, but the solution lies in embracing healthy industrial relations.
At a time when the country is going through a socio-political and economic transformation, the need of the hour is to walk and work together.
Looking at nearly 700,000 public workers, we cannot have under one per cent of the population consuming 50 per cent of the revenue.
Ms Serem is the chairperson, Salaries and Remuneration Commission. [email protected]