PR&MB 2020 – Labour Relations and Social Safety

It is no doubt that the pandemic has caused significant disruption of employment. The Bill provides that where a pandemic adversely affects the ability of an employer to pay salaries or wages:

  1. Notwithstanding the provisions of the Employment Act, an employer shall not terminate a contract of service or dismiss an employee;
  2. An employer shall not coerce an employee to take a salary cut.

The Bill further adds that despite subsection (1), where an employer is unable to meet his obligations to pay salaries or wages, the employer shall permit an employee to take leave of absence without pay for the duration of the pandemic.

The spirit of the Bill is to ensure that no employee loses their job or is forced to take a salary cut due to the pandemic. The Bill also seems to attempt to oust the provisions Employment Act which is the primary Act with regards to employment. There is therefore an outright conflict with regards to the two pieces of legislation as the Employment Act allows for termination of an employee provided they are given sufficient written notice.

Social safety net and economic safeguards

National and county governments shall put in place social safety schemes designed to support vulnerable persons, vulnerable households and informal sector workers whose incomes have been disrupted by the pandemic. The Bill has not however defined the scope of vulnerable persons nor the procedure for identifying them. Some of the economic safeguards to be enforced include unconditional cash transfers to support the identified groups. Kenya currently already has safety net programmes for certain groups such as the elderly, orphaned children and persons with disabilities.

However there is a significantly large group of Kenyans who are not in existing social safety net groups. As such, cash transfer programmes to these groups seems to be a difficult challenge. Going forward, it appears that Kenya should have a more comprehensive social net programme. These programmes should be existent even in times when the county is not facing a pandemic.

The Bill also charges the National and County governments with providing for the waiver of water and electricity charges for identified vulnerable persons and households; and adjustment of tariff rates in order to reduce utility charges to individuals and businesses; and withhold disconnections for non-payment of utility bills.