CORD, Jubilee rivalry plays out at Labour Day fete
MPs from the rival CORD and Jubilee coalitions sought to outdo each other at the Labour Day celebrations, where the Government dashed workers’ hopes of a pay rise.
Thursday’s function was preceded by speculation that there might be a confrontation between members of the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) and the Government-backed Public Service Trade Unions of Kenya (Pusetu-K).
Pusetu leaders were blocked by heavily armed anti-riot police from accessing Uhuru Park, the venue for the fete, and led a street protest to express their disappointment.
Cotu had secured a court order on Wednesday blocking Pusetu, whose leaders had threatened to storm the function. It was thought that the ruling Jubilee coalition would snub the event and so CORD MPs thronged Uhuru Park for the Cotu-led celebrations.
Led by Senate Minority Leader Moses Wetang’ula the CORD leaders trooped to the venue amid applause from the crowd. However, Senate Majority Leader Aden Duale and Cabinet Secretaries Kazungu Kambi (Labour) and Joseph ole Lenku (Interior) duly arrived.
Duale then declared in his address that he spoke for President Uhuru Kenyatta who did not turn up. Acknowledging the tacit political showdown, Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli said that during his 11 years stint at the helm of the labour organisation, he had never witnessed such a huge number of MPs at a Labour Day fete.
“You have come out in large numbers,” Atwoli jokingly told the lawmakers.
“We respect you, Atwoli, because of your leadership. When I speak, I also speak on Uhuru’s behalf,” Duale said.
Kambi formally represented President Kenyatta, but curiously did not read the president’s speech, which was sent to newsrooms. On Wednesday evening, Cotu threatened to search for another chief guest if the Government turned down their invite.
“The division of workers will not be tolerated. We in CORD and other Kenyans of goodwill say it’s not the direction to go,” Wetang’ula said, adding that Cotu has led the labour movement in “a most admirable manner.”
The Government dashed the hopes of workers after it failed to increase the minimum wage, as has been the tradition. Kambi said that it was a painful moment for workers, but insisted that the Jubilee government would only increase wages if the economy could support it.
“We have discussed with the Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) and the workers’ unions and we have agreed that before this year ends we will be able to ascertain how our economic indexes are,” the CS said.
“That is the time we will increase the salaries accordingly,” he added.
It comes just weeks after the President Kenyatta, his deputy William Ruto and the Cabinet volunteered to take pay cuts to help contain the ballooning wage bill, and encouraged other civil servants to follow suit.
President Kenyatta encouraged workers to raise their productivity even as they seek better terms. He warned labour organisations against unnecessary strikes, pointing out that constant industrial action would bring down the economy. The President said the demand for increased pay should be addressed through established institutions instead of work stoppages.
“It is also vital to remind the nation that the demands of our workers ought to be made within the established institutions such as the Salaries and Remuneration Commission, which is the institution, mandated to determine salary and remuneration in the public sector amongst others,” he said
According to President Kenyatta, the Government received 44 strike notices, which brought industrial unrest affecting more than 300,000 workers.
“More than 11 million man-hours were lost as a consequence. Although all the strikes reported were resolved through conciliation and mediation under the Ministry of Labour and other government agencies, these are still massive losses for a country that faces other major challenges,” he said.
He said the Government is reviewing labour laws to align them with the Constitution. A national manpower survey on the skills available in the country due to a wide gap in the training offered in learning institutions and the demand for skills required by industries has been done, said President Kenyatta.
“It (the survey) will now be put to use in our planning, and our focus will be on aligning our training and education to the demands of our labour market. We cannot afford to let any of our talents go to waste,” he said.
CORD leaders have been giving Government functions a wide berth and even skipped even the swearing-in of President Kenyatta and his Deputy.
But yesterday, known critics of the Government, including Siaya Senator James Orengo, his Machakos counterpart Johnston Muthama and Budalangi MP Ababu Namwamba were present. Nairobi Senator Mike Sonko was also present and urged Atwoli and Kambi to embrace.
Thursday most leaders present at the Uhuru Park event appeared to side with Atwoli and warned Kazungu to stop dividing the labour movement in Kenya.