Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of workers, including those in export processing zones (EPZs), to form and join unions of their choice and to bargain collectively. For the union to be recognized as a bargaining agent, it needs to represent a simple majority of the employees in a firm eligible to join the union. This provision extends to public and private sector employees. Members of the armed forces, prisons service, and police are not allowed to form or join trade unions.
The law permits the government to deny workers the right to strike under certain conditions. For example, the government prohibits members of the military, police, prison guards, and the National Youth Service from striking. Civil servants are permitted to strike following a seven-day notice period. A bureau of the Ministry of Labor, Social Security, and Services (Ministry of Labor) then typically referred disputes to mediation, fact-finding, or binding arbitration at the Employment and Labor Relations Court, a body of up to 12 judges which has exclusive jurisdiction to handle employment and labor matters and which operates in urban areas, including Nairobi, Mombasa, Nyeri, Nakuru, Kisumu, and Kericho. In 2016 the Judiciary granted High Court status to the Employment and Labor Relations Court. It is illegal for parties involved in mediation to strike. Additionally, the ministry’s referral of a dispute to the conciliation process nullifies the right to strike.
By law workers who provide essential services, interpreted as “a service the interruption of which would probably endanger the life of a person or health of the population,” may not strike. Any trade dispute in a service listed as essential or declared an essential service may be adjudicated by the Employment and Labor Relations Court.
Strikes must concern terms of employment, and sympathy strikes are prohibited.
The law permits workers in collective bargaining disputes to strike if they have exhausted formal conciliation procedures and have given seven days’ notice to the government and the employer. Conciliation is not compulsory in individual employment matters. Security forces may not bargain collectively but have an internal board that reviews salaries. Informal workers may establish associations, or even unions, to negotiate wages and conditions matching the government’s minimum wage guidelines as well as to advocate for better working conditions and representation in the Employment and Labor Relations Court. The bill of rights in the constitution allows trade unions to undertake their activities without government interference, and the government generally respected this right.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity. The Employment and Labor Relations Court can order reinstatement and damages in the form of back pay for employees wrongfully dismissed for union activities. Labor laws apply to all groups of workers.
The government enforced the decisions of the Employment and Labor Relations Court inconsistently. Many employers did not comply with reinstatement orders, and some workers accepted payment in lieu of reinstatement. In several cases, employers successfully appealed the Employment and Labor Relations Court’s decisions to a branch of the High Court. The enforcement mechanisms of the Employment and Labor Relations Court remained weak, and its case backlog raised concerns about the long delays and lack of efficacy of the court.
The Employment and Labor Relations Court received many cases arising from the implementation of new labor laws. The parties filed the majority of cases directly without referral to Ministry of Labor for conciliation. In 2016-17, the number of filed cases increased to 6,082, while the number of cases settled more than doubled to 3,668. As of June 2017, 13,723 cases were pending in up from 11,309 cases at the end of 2015-16. The total Collective Bargaining Agreements registered in 2017 were 411, compared with 268 in 2016. The government established the court to provide for quick resolution of labor disputes, but backlog cases dated to 2007.
The chief justice designated all county courts presided over by senior resident magistrates and higher-ranking judges as special courts to hear employment and labor cases. Providing adequate facilities outside of Nairobi was challenging, but observers cited the ability of workers to submit labor-related cases throughout the country as a positive step. In 2016 the Judiciary finalized the Employment and Labor Relations (Procedure) Rules. The significant changes introduced in the new Court procedure rules provide parties access to file pleadings directly in electronic form, new pretrial procedures, and alternative dispute resolution. The rules also set a 30-day time limit for the court to submit a report on disagreements over Collective Bargaining Agreements filed.
The government generally respected freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively, although enforcement was inconsistent. The government expressed its support for union rights mandated in the constitution.
Migrant workers often lacked formal organization and consequently missed the benefits of collective bargaining. Similarly, domestic workers and others who operated in private settings were vulnerable to exclusion from legal protections, although domestic workers unions exist in the country to protect their interests. The Ministry of East African Community and Northern Corridor claimed all employees are covered by the existing labor laws, and the ministry continued to advise domestic workers on the terms of their contracts, especially when their terms and conditions of work are violated.
In 2016 the government deployed labor attaches to Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to regulate and coordinate contracts of Kenyan migrant workers and promote overseas job opportunities. The Ministry of East African Community and Northern Corridor also helped Kenyan domestic workers understand the terms and conditions of their work agreements. The government signed two bilateral agreements for employment opportunities with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and the ministry’s negotiations continued with UAE. The ministry also established a directorate to regulate the conduct of labor agents for Kenyan migrant workers, including requiring the posting of a 500,000 shilling ($5,000) performance guarantee bond for each worker.
The survival of trade unions was threatened by the misuse of internships and other forms of transitional employment, with employers often not hiring employees after an internship ends. State agencies increasingly outsourced jobs to the private sector, and in the private sector, casual workers were employed on short-term contracts. This shift contributed to declining numbers in trade unions. NGOs and trade unionists reported replacement of permanent positions by casual or contract labor, especially in the EPZs, the Port of Mombasa, and in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors. In some cases cited, employers staffed permanent jobs with rotating contract workers. This practice occurred at the management level as well, where employers hired individuals as management trainees and kept them in these positions for the maximum permitted period of three years. Instead of converting such trainees to permanent staff, employers replaced them with new trainees at the end of the three years.
Workers exercised the right to strike. The health sector witnessed industrial strikes that began in the fourth quarter of 2016 and lasted well into 2017. The doctors’ strike lasted until March 2017, leading to disruption of public health care service delivery and temporary detention of seven union officials. Strikes involving Kenya National Union of Nurses in various counties continued until November 2017. The government agreed to pay withheld back salaries; authorized a collective bargaining agreement; agreed to pay for nurses’ uniforms and to provide a risk allowance; and announced it would drop all pending disciplinary cases against nurses resulting from the strikes. Clinical Officers supporting the health sector also went on a short-lived strike lasting three weeks before a court heard their grievances in October. University lecturers went on strike three times during the academic year, demanding full implementation of the 2013-2017 Collective Bargaining Agreement, which was resolved in December 2017.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children. The country made moderate advances to prevent or eliminate forced labor.
The government did not effectively enforce the law and some forced labor occurred. Certain legal provisions, including the penal code and the Public Order Act, impose compulsory prison labor. Resources, inspections, and remediation were not adequate to prevent forced labor, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. Violations included debt bondage, trafficking of workers, and compulsion of persons, even family members, to work as domestic servants. The government prosecuted 59 cases of forced labor, primarily in cattle herding, street vending, begging, and agriculture in 2017. Domestic workers from Uganda, herders from Ethiopia, and others from Somalia, South Sudan, and Burundi were subjected to forced labor.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The minimum age for work (other than apprenticeships) is 16, and the minimum age for hazardous work is 18. These protections, however, only extend to children engaged under formal employment agreements, and do not extend to those children working informally. The ministry, in collaboration with the International Labor Organization (ILO), the international donor community, and NGOs, published a list of specific jobs considered hazardous that would constitute the worst forms of child labor in 2014. This list includes but is not limited to scavenging, carrying stones and rocks, metalwork, working with machinery, mining and stone crushing. The law explicitly prohibits forced labor, trafficking, and other practices similar to slavery; child soldiering; prostitution; the use, procuring, or offering of a child for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances; and the use by an adult for illegal activities (such as drug trafficking) of any child up to age 18. The law applies equally to girls and boys.
The law allows children ages 13 to 16 to engage in industrial undertakings when participating in apprenticeships. Industrial undertakings are defined under law to include work in mines, quarries, factories, construction, demolition, and transportation, which the list for children includes as hazardous work.
The law provides for penalties for any person who employs, engages, or uses a child in an industrial undertaking in violation of the law. Fines in the formal sector were generally enough to deter violations. Employment of children in the formal industrial wage sector in violation of the Employment Act was rare. The law does not prohibit child labor for children employed outside the scope of a contractual agreement. Child labor in the informal sector was widespread but difficult to monitor and control.
The Ministry of Labor enforces child labor laws, but enforcement remained inconsistent due to resource constraints. Supplementary programs, such as the ILO-initiated Community Child Labor monitoring program, helped provide additional resources to combat child labor. These programs identified children who were working illegally, removed them from hazardous work conditions, and referred them to appropriate service providers. The government also worked closely with the Central Organization of Trade Unions, and the Federation of Kenyan Employers to eliminate child labor.
In support of child protection, the Ministry of Labor launched a national online database system in May 2017. The Child Protection Information Management System collects, aggregates and reports on child protection data that informs policy decisions and budgeting for orphans and vulnerable children. The web-based system allows for an aggregate format of data to be made available to all the child protection stakeholders. In 2017 two new Child Rescue Centers were established in Siaya and Kakamega counties, bringing the total number of these centers to eight. Child Rescue Centers withdraw and rehabilitate child laborers and provide counseling and life skills training.
The government continued to implement the National Safety Net Program for Results, a project seeking to establish an effective national safety net program for poor and vulnerable households, and the Decent Work Country Program, a project designed to advance economic opportunities. Under these programs, the government pays households sheltering orphans or other vulnerable children to deter the children from dropping out of school and engaging in forced labor. For example, there have been some cases reported in Western Kenya of girls dropping out of secondary school and engaging in sex work in order to afford basic supplies.
According to a 2016 UNICEF study, 26 percent of children between ages 14 and under (almost 5 million children) engaged in child labor. Many children worked on family plots or in family units on tea, coffee, sugar, sisal, tobacco, and rice plantations, as well as in the production of miraa (khat). Children worked in mining, including in abandoned gold mines, small quarries, and sand mines. Children also worked in the fishing industry. In urban areas businesses employed children in hawking, scavenging, carrying loads, fetching and selling water, and selling food. Children often worked long hours as domestic servants in private homes for little or no pay, and there were reports of physical and sexual abuse of child domestic servants. Parents sometimes initiated forced or compulsory child labor, such as in agricultural labor and domestic service, but also including prostitution.
Most of the trafficking of children within the country appeared related to domestic labor, with migrant children trafficked from rural to urban areas.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination but does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Several regulatory statutes provide a legal framework for a requirement for the public and private sectors to reserve 5 percent of employment opportunities for persons with disabilities; tax relief and incentives for such persons and their organizations; and reserves 30 percent of public procurement tenders for women, youth, and persons with disabilities.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Gender-based discrimination in employment and occupation occurred, although the law mandates nondiscrimination based on gender in hiring. The average monthly income of women was approximately two-thirds that of men. Women had difficulty working in nontraditional fields, had slower promotions, and were more likely to be dismissed. According to a World Bank report, both men and women experienced sexual harassment in job recruitment, but women more commonly reported it. Women who tried to establish their own informal businesses were subjected to discrimination and harassment. One study of women street vendors in Nairobi found harassment was the main mode of interaction between street vendors and authorities. The study noted that demands for bribes by police amounting to three to 8 percent of a vendor’s income as well as sexual abuse were common.
In an audit of hiring practices released in 2016, the NCIC accused many county governors of appointing and employing disproportionate numbers of the dominant tribe in their county. According to the commission, 15 of the 47 counties failed to include a single person from a minority tribe either on the county’s public service board or as county executive committee members. For example, all 10 of West Pokot’s committee members were Pokots. These problems were aggravated by the devolution of fiscal and administrative responsibility to county governments. Some counties, for example Nairobi City County, were notable for apportioning roles inclusively. Observers also noted patterns of preferential hiring during police recruitment exercises (see section 1.d.).
In both private business and in the public sector, members of nearly all ethnic groups commonly discriminated in favor of other members of the same group.
Due to societal discrimination, there were limited employment opportunities for persons with albinism. The law provides protection for persons with disabilities against employment discrimination, although in practice many persons with disabilities faced challenges in finding and obtaining employment. There are no legal employment protections for LGBTI persons, who remained vulnerable to discrimination in the workplace. Discrimination against migrant workers also occurred.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Regulation of wages is part of the Labor Institutions Act, and the government established basic minimum wages by occupation and location, setting minimum standards for monthly, daily, and hourly work in each category. The minimum wage for a general laborer was 12,926 shillings ($128) per month. The average minimum wage for skilled workers was 18,274 shillings ($181) per month. The government increased the lowest agricultural minimum wage for unskilled employees to 7,323 shillings ($73) per month, excluding housing allowance. Agricultural workers were underpaid compared with other sectors. Minimum wages exceeded the World Bank poverty rate of $1.90 per day.
The Ministry of Labor implemented various social protection programs under the Social Safety Net Program, such as a cash transfer for orphaned and vulnerable children, a cash transfer program for the elderly, and a cash transfer program for persons with disabilities. These programs reached 874,806 households.
The law limits the normal workweek to 52 hours (60 hours for night workers); some categories of workers had lower limits. It specifically excludes agricultural workers from such limitations. It entitles an employee in the nonagricultural sector to one rest day per week and 21 days of combined annual and sick leave. The law also requires that total hours worked (regular time plus overtime) in any two-week period not exceed 120 hours (144 hours for night workers) and provides premium pay for overtime.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Authorities reported workweek and overtime violations. Workers in some enterprises, particularly in the EPZs and those in road construction, claimed employers forced them to work extra hours without overtime pay to meet production targets. Hotel industry workers were usually paid the minimum statutory wage, but employees worked long hours without compensation. Additionally, employers often did not provide nighttime transport, leaving workers vulnerable to assault, robbery, and sexual harassment.
The law details environmental, health, and safety standards. The Labor Ministry’s Directorate of Occupational Health and Safety Services has the authority to inspect factories and work sites, but employed an insufficient number of labor inspectors to conduct regular inspections. Fines generally were insufficient to deter violations.
The directorate’s health and safety inspectors can issue notices against employers for practices or activities that involve a risk of serious personal injury. Employers may appeal such notices to the Factories Appeals Court, a body of four members, one of whom must be a High Court judge. The law stipulates that factories employing 20 or more persons have an internal health and safety committee with representation from workers. According to the government, many of the largest factories had health and safety committees.
The law provides for labor inspections to prevent labor disputes, accidents, and conflicts and to protect workers from occupational hazards and disease by ensuring compliance with labor laws. Low salaries and the lack of vehicles, fuel, and other resources made it very difficult for labor inspectors to do their work effectively and left them vulnerable to bribes and other forms of corruption. Labor inspections include a provision for reporting on persons with disabilities. The Employment Act of 2007 prohibits discrimination against an employee on the basis of disability.
The law provides social protections for workers employed in the formal and informal sectors. Informal workers organized into associations, cooperatives, and, in some cases, unions. All Kenyan employers, including those in the informal sector, are required to contribute to the National Hospital Insurance Fund and the National Social Security Fund; these provide health insurance and pensions. According to the 2015-2017 Kenya Economic Survey, the informal sector employed 11.81 million persons in 2016, compared with 2.42 million in the formal sector.
Workers, including foreigners and immigrants, have the legal right to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. The Ministry of Labor did not effectively enforce these regulations, and workers were reluctant to remove themselves from working conditions that endangered their health or safety due to the risk of losing their jobs. The Kenya Federation of Employers provided training and auditing of workplaces for health and safety practices.