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Labour Day is for workers, not politicians and masqueraders

Saturday May 4 2019

Labour Day

Central Organisation of Trade Unions Secretary-General Francis Atwoli addresses workers during Labour Day on May 1, 2019 at Uhuru Park. Around the world, Labour Day is a commoner’s version of the State of the Nation address. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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I now know better that Labour Day is set aside to mark the day when the Labour Union movement rose up against unjust working conditions and demanded better pay, reasonable hours, and paid leaves.

On this day every year, workers’ unions from around the world come together to take stock of the progress they have made towards creating a conducive working environment for all under their care, comparing notes on challenges facing their growth, and agreeing on a way forward for a better tomorrow.

The Labour Movement in Kenya wasn’t left behind in this annual festival, and they went to Uhuru Park on Wednesday to join Kenyan workers.

There are more than 10 million workers in Kenya today, yet those who turned up at Uhuru Park were fewer than the number of pork shops in Saudi Arabia; the camera people had a difficult time trying to magnify a minuscule crowd that was thinner than a street-child’s wallet.

There was enough free space left in the park to hold a parallel prayer rally, yet the main podium was overflowing with politicians — and it is not difficult to see why.



While unions in other countries have stayed true to their calling of service to workers, the umbrella body of Kenyan labourers has not only remained silent during times of national crisis, but has also politicised the Labour Movement much to the collective disappointment of the Kenyan worker.

Kenyans had expected the union leaders present at Uhuru Park on Wednesday to stay true to their national calling by speaking boldly about workers’ rights to humane treatment, paid leaves, and fair wages.

There were expectations that the umbrella body of Kenyan employers be given a fair chance to speak on current labour issues dominating national debate.

Workers looked upon the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) to populate the main podium with union leaders representing various professions.

This was a day dedicated to the triumph of workers, and we had expected speeches from national leaders of medical practitioners, certified engineers, jua kali artisans, street hawkers, car importers, traditional brewers, oil marketers, bread wrappers, bean counters, matatu operators, and the like.


Around the world, Labour Day is a commoner’s version of the State of the Nation address; it is supposed to give us the true feel of the state of our economy from those right inside the main engine room of the country’s economic development.

Kenyans were looking forward to an unbiased assessment of our national employment situation.

Instead, the organisers of the Labour Day celebrations not only stayed away from making the event all-inclusive, they also chose to fight the Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) for their opposition to the 1.5 per cent mandatory housing levy by the government, which most Kenyan workers have expressed their collective disapproval of.

It was a horror show when Cotu Secretary-General Francis Atwoli announced that President Uhuru Kenyatta is still young and that Cotu is supporting a referendum to extend Kenyatta’s stay at the helm of government.


The entire speech is timed at slightly more than half an hour and most of the time he is praising his political friends and throwing personal jabs at his political enemies.

It was a one-man show full of ungovernable hubris, reckless proclamations, and unsolicited ranting.

It paints the picture of a labour union leader who lives in his own utopian world, out of touch with the reality of the Kenyan worker, and blind to the deplorable working conditions of the Kenyan worker at the bottom of the employment pyramid.

It is not difficult to see how the Labour Day event wasn’t a political rally camouflaged as a workers’ union event.

The abdication of the event by a majority of the Kenyan workers should send a strong signal to the Labour Movement in this country to stick to their mandate of addressing workers’ plight.

Kenyans are already sick and tired of empty rhetoric from the political class, and they’d rather watch paint dry than a national event being rained on by political gate-crashers.

Mr Oguda writes on topical issues; [email protected]