Kenya joined the rest of the world in marking Labor Day on Thursday as the government pleaded with workers for more time to assess the performance of the economy before it can increase their salaries.
Labor Cabinet Secretary Kazungu Kambi, who presided over the celebrations, asked workers across the country to be patient stating that although the constitution allows workers to strike over salary increment, industrial action should be done within the prevailing laws and other rights and conditions.
"Before this year ends we will be able to ascertain the economic index and see if we can increase salaries accordingly. We are pleading for more time since we are a new government," Kambi told thousands of workers in central Nairobi.
He said the government was also looking into improving working conditions of Kenyans in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Kuwait.
"There is urgent need for establishment of an alternative dispute resolution mechanism to avoid the confusion we have seen in the Industrial Court," he said.
President Uhuru Kenyatta in his speech called on workers to raise productivity even as they seek better terms and decried that over 11 million man hours were lost due to strikes last year.
Kenyatta said last year alone, the government received 44 strike notices which brought industrial unrest affecting more than 300,000 workers.
Kenyatta called on workers to explore other avenues in resolving industrial disputes. He noted that constant strike hurts the economy.
"Although all the strikes reported were resolved through conciliation and mediation under the Ministry of Labor and other government agencies, these are still massive losses for a country that faces other major challenges," he said in his Labor Day speech read by Kambi.
He also called on employers to ensure safety of workers at work place. He noted that too many Kenyans work in conditions that damage their health, or dishonor efforts.
"Through occupational safety and health inspections, medical examination of workers, testing and examination of plants and equipment and training of workers in occupational safety and health, we have slowly begun to ensure that each and every Kenyan who labors does so in an environment that is safe," he said.
"But more is required, which is why my government has prepared a National Policy on Occupational Safety and Health, which was launched in November last year."
The policy contains a roadmap for protecting health and safety at work, and for strengthening the legal framework that protects rights at places of work.
Of particular importance are its provisions on equitable compensation and rehabilitation for those who may be injured at work or contract occupational diseases.
"There is no doubt that Kenyan workers are among the most diligent to be found anywhere, but even as you pursue claims for better pay and better conditions, do not risk the health of the national economy, on which we all depend," Kenyatta said.