As it appeared in the Daily Nation May 1st, 2018
Today is Labour Day! Also referred to as the International Workers’ Day; it is the day that the achievements of workers in many countries are celebrated. With its origin in the labour union movement, the day focuses heavily on unionized workers and the many gains that the labour union movements have made globally. Many organizations especially those in manufacturing and in service have large numbers of such workers. As I have reflected on the pomp and colour that characterizes Labour Day celebrations in Kenya, I have wondered if our workers deserve to be celebrated.
Despite the gains that the labour movement in Kenya has made, fresh in our minds are the significant workers’ strikes that have plagued our country in the last decade. Top on the list have been the doctors, nurses, teachers and university lecturers’ strikes advocating for better pay and better working conditions. The workers have used these strikes to attract attention and to make their voices heard. In addition to the strikes, the quality of work produced by many of our workers across the sectors has bothered many. From the artisans that make furniture and repair our cars to the engineers that supervise houses and roads; there are ongoing concerns about the standards our workers adhere too. Many of us have witnessed houses and bridges collapse due to poor workmanship. Nevertheless, many other workers have stood out in the honourable performance of their duties the sectors.
I believe that though the labour force in Kenya is of a higher quality than that of its neighbours, there is still room for improvement. The quality of workmanship remains a major concern to many employers and even to customers. This makes me wonder if there could be a gap between what our education system produces and what the industry requires. Poor quality workmanship is not only evident in entry level employees. In some instances, workers who have served the longest become a disservice to their organizations if they resist change. I have observed that some workers that have served their organizations for decades are not very keen on new ways of doing things. Long gone are the days when long-service was the only form of recognition. Long-service awards would be conspicuously displayed in sitting rooms. Today, the worker’s overall performance is what needs to be recognized and celebrated.
This year’s Labour Day theme revolves around reasoning together for sustainable social and economic advancement. Workers, their unions and employers need to reason together in finding solutions that make the workplace a better place for all. I believe that quality of work and productivity have had the least attention. There is need for all involved to work towards a significant improvement in such areas.
Whether or not workers deserve to be celebrated depends on the contribution they are making and the relationships they are maintaining with each other, with their employers and with customers. Is it a valuable contribution? Are they healthy relationships? As workers celebrate Labour Day today, one thing they must not forget is that their greatest job security is satisfied customers. Unless their customers are satisfied, they are not assured of a job tomorrow. Have a Happy Labour Day!
Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer connect via twitter @KiruthuLucy