Coronavirus safety measures lead to pay cuts and job losses globally

Saturday April 18 2020

Kenya Airways planes are seen parked at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport near Nairobi, Kenya on March 6, 2019. The travel and hospitality industries are the worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic due to global travel restrictions. PHOTO | THOMAS MUKOYA | REUTERS


The harsh reality of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown measures is hitting home as more than 500,000 workers in the region have lost their jobs in the past one month across all sectors.

The International Labour Organisation has warned that at least 195 million people around the world are going to be jobless in the next three months, considering the world aviation and hospitality industry has been grounded.

This has been compounded by the “stay home” order as advised by the WHO, which has seen companies scale down or totally shut down.

Preliminary figures released by Kenyan and Ugandan employers as well as sectoral trade unions in the region, show that the decision to send workers on unpaid leave has rendered many jobless. Rwanda is in the process of compiling the number of affected workers.

Burundi, Tanzania and South Sudan are yet to announce any restrictions on movements.

“This is no longer just a global health crisis, it is also a major labour market and economic crisis that is having a huge impact on people,” said ILO director-general Guy Ryder.


Douglas Opio, the CEO of the Federation of Uganda Employers said that out of a working population of 19 million—2.1 million being from the public sector—more than 400,000 workers are affected by the measures announced by President Yoweri Museveni a month ago to contain the spread of the virus.

“More than 5,000 companies are not operating. Over 400,000 workers are affected and this is a conservative estimate,” said Mr Opio, adding, “We are not sure how many more will lose their jobs. The situation has been made more difficult by the decision by the government to extend the lockdown measures by three more weeks.”

The Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa), an employers’ apex body lists tourism and travel business, transport and logistics, wholesale and retail industries that import their raw materials, manufacturing, infrastructure related industries as the most hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“So far we are aware of only five employers who have declared redundancies. But the losses being incurred by businesses are huge. Most are operating at 50 per cent capacity and lower,” said Jacqueline Mugo, CEO Federation of Kenya Employers.

“Our advice to companies has been to avoid redundancies so most have sent staff on leave. The challenge will get more serious as staff members exhaust their annual leave from end of this month,” she said.

Mrs Mugo, whose organisation represents more than 4,000 companies, said her members want a stimulus package from the government to enable them tame the unemployment crisis created by the pandemic.

“We have held and continue to hold discussions with the government on stimulus packages for industries, but it seems difficult for them to do more beyond what has already been announced. SMEs in particular will be hard hit and need such rescue packages,” she said.

Trade unions affiliated to the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) are in the process of assessing job losses.

“It is up to individual sectoral unions to tally their figures. In the tea sector where I am the Secretary-General, we agreed to have staff take their pending leaves. Those without, would be sent home in advance,” said Francis Atwoli, Secretary-General of Cotu.

“But we are aware that most workers who are not our members are jobless. We are yet to ascertain the exact numbers but they are in their thousands,” he added.

In Kenya’s aviation sector alone, more than 7,000 employees are either on reduced pay or unpaid leave. These include staff at Kenya Airways, Jambo Jet, Fly540, and ground handling companies at the Mombasa, Kisumu, and Nairobi international airports, including staff working at the duty-free shops.

“The aviation industry has been the hardest hit by this pandemic and the only way out is a bailout by the government,” said Ndiema Moss, Secretary-General of Kenya Aviation Workers Union.

“More than 3,500 employees of Kenya Airways, at least 300 domestic flight workers at Jambojet, FLY540, and other local airlines, 400 workers at Aerotech, 1,000 workers at Tradewinds, and more than 200 workers at duty-free shops are all home,” he said.

The Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers CEO Mike Macharia said many hotels both in Nairobi and Mombasa have also closed down due to the effect of coronavirus measures.

“More than 60 hotels have closed down. Each of these hotels could be having an average of 100 workers each or more and that can tell you how many are affected,” said Mr Macharia, a board member at FKE.