Last Updated: Thursday, 27 November 2014, 13:39 GMT

The Global State of Workers' Rights - Kenya

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 31 August 2010
Cite as Freedom House, The Global State of Workers' Rights - Kenya, 31 August 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4d4fc7faa.html [accessed 28 November 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Partly Free

Kenya has a long history of trade union activity. Unions are largely free from direct governmental control, although some institutional impediments exist. There are approximately 40 trade unions in the country, representing about 500,000 workers. Most unions are affiliated with the sole approved national federation, the Central Organization of Trade Unions.

All workers other than police officers are legally free to join unions. Both the Trade Disputes Act and the Industrial Relations Charter authorize collective bargaining. The 2007 Labor Relations Act (LRA) explicitly establishes broad criteria for trade union registration; authorities have only limited grounds to suspend or refuse to register a union. Some unions have complained that employers resist efforts to establish unions in their factories, and that the relevant government bodies have been ineffective in enforcing the law. Historically the trade union movement has been subservient to the authorities, though there has been a trend toward militancy in recent years.

The LRA authorizes collective bargaining, and a union must be recognized if it represents a majority of employees. This provision extends to public-sector employers. Collective agreements must be submitted to the industrial court and become binding upon registration by the court. Civil servants not involved in state administration are allowed to bargain collectively and go on strike, but this right is denied to workers in the military, prisons, the National Youth Service, and teachers under the Teachers' Service Commission. The LRA provides that the labor minister may, after consultations with the National Labor Board, issue regulations that impose terms and conditions of employment in the public sector.

There are restrictions on the right to strike. During a 10-day notice period, the labor minister may intervene and propose a mediator for the dispute. If the negotiations break down, the government usually refers the matter to an industrial court. The definition of "essential services" under the LRA is very broad, and the labor minister may declare any service essential, thereby prohibiting the right to strike.

Some union leaders and members have been threatened with job loss or actually dismissed for participating in trade union activities. Employers have increasingly cut their permanent staff and replaced them with day workers or subcontractors, thereby reducing workers' chances of representation by trade unions. Workers are allowed to join unions in export-processing zones, but with a number of restrictions.

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