Sacked and locked in: Storm clouds gather over breadwinners

Economic storm clouds are gathering fast. The Government is stepping in with knee-jerk reactions but the fear that crisis prevention won’t be sufficient is written on the faces of many bread winners.

For Jairus Alwang’a, a father of three, this could not have come at a worse time. He was sacked within the first month of Kenya reporting the first case of the disruptive coronavirus.

His employer lost his job and had to send Mr Alwang’a packing. The employer has taken up the very job that he had given to Mr Alwang’a.

Mr Alwang’a, who was working as a driver, helping to deliver goods to people making online orders, is now jobless, scared and cooped up in Nairobi as the Government tries to contain the spread of Covid-19.

“It is very tough. Making distress calls every day to look for food is dehumanising. I did not just lose my job. It is like I have also lost my dignity,” says Mr Alwang’a.

Figures for this year will likely be hit by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to a slowdown in the business environment and led the Treasury to forecast that economic growth could decline to 2.5 percent and possibly lower to 1.8 percent.

“It is affecting every segment, every sector of the economy… there is loss of jobs, loss of earnings, and there is general slackness of growth at all levels. This might actually persist for a long time,” Treasury Secretary Ukur Yatani said during a media briefing Tuesday.

The private sector generated 46,100 or 58.8 percent of the formal jobs. This was a reduction from the 57,600 jobs generated in 2018.

A general drop in the number of formal jobs is a major blow to jobseekers, especially the close to one million young people who graduate from various educational institutions every year. Already, more than four million of Kenya’s youth eligible for work have no jobs, according to the maiden quarterly labour data released by the KNBS last month. The report shows that 4,066,362 — or 34.27 percent of 11.8 million young Kenyans — were jobless as at December when the data was collected, highlighting income inequalities across age demographics.

Young people are the hardest hit by joblessness compared to their counterparts who are above 35 years in an economic setting that is plagued by a hiring freeze on the back of sluggish corporate earnings.

Kenya’s years of strong economic growth have created jobs, but they are mostly low-paying, informal and coming at a rate that economists say is too low to absorb the rapidly growing youth population.

According to KNBS, the average earning per employee increased by 8.1 percent from Sh59,993 per month in 2018 to Sh64,854 last year. This means the rise in workers’ take-home pay outperformed inflation for the second year in a row.

Average inflation stood at 5.2 percent last year, leaving workers with a stronger purchasing power last year.

Worse still, he is locked up in the city and must pay rent, a tall order for a person already struggling to get food. If the Government was to open up the city and he gets money, he would take the next bus to his rural home.

He represents the now rising number of Kenyan workers who are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They have lost work. They cannot meet their daily needs. Yet, they cannot be allowed out of the city.

  • This is the sad reality we are facing as a country. With the growth in population and subsequent growth in unemployment, I believe more has to be done. Mr Alwang’a is a good representation of the redundancy that came about due to covid 19 and as we’ve started a new year all we do is hope for things to change.

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