Labour Day 2023: promoting labour rights in Kenya

April 2023

Every year on 1 May, to mark Labour Day, the Central Organization of Trade Unions Kenya (COTU-K) holds an event in Nairobi to raise awareness about labour issues and advocate for better laws and policies to protect workers’ rights.

Their theme for this year’s Labour Day celebrations is ‘Kenyan workers for economic growth, political stability and jobs creation.’ And for the first time, COTU-K is making disability inclusion a key focus of its activity.

Together with United Disabled Persons of Kenya (UDPK), they are calling for ‘disability inclusion for decent work for all.’ This aligns with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal number 8: to promote inclusive economic growth and productive employment for everyone.

COTU-K and UDPK are calling for the government and employers to:

  • Promote employment for workers with disabilities
  • Champion disability rights at work
  • Promote reasonable accommodation at work
  • Create workplaces for all through adaptive jobs and workplaces

Why do we need to raise awareness about workers’ rights?

Across Kenya and many other parts of the world, people with disabilities who want to earn a living from farming or running a business face major barriers. These include not being able to access the equipment, inputs or stock they need or discrimination from people in their communities who say they cannot take part in these activities because they have a disability.

“It wasn’t believed that a person with a disability could be a farmer and grow sorghum. They were never given the opportunity.”
Jacob, Homa Bay County Disability Forum

As part of research carried out by Global Labor Program – Inclusive Futures, we found that more than two-thirds of the farmers we interviewed were unaware of laws and policies that protect the rights of people with disabilities, women and other marginalised groups. We also found that how confident a person is about exercising their labour rights can be affected by their gender, education and socioeconomic status. More about the Global Labor Program

Joan stands in front of a field of sorghum crops.

Joan’s story

Joan is a farmer in Homa Bay County who has a physical disability. She grows sorghum and other crops, such as cassava, sweet potatoes, maize and onions.

Before joining the Global Labor Program, she didn’t know about the laws protecting her rights. She says: “No one has ever taught me that there are policies that safeguard my interests as a farmer.”

A woman leans on crutches as she feeds a cow.
Jeniffer, a farmer with a disability, grew sorghum as part of the Global Labor Program pilot project. © East African Breweries

How is the Global Labor Program addressing these issues?

As Kenya celebrates Labour Day and the Global Labor Program reaches its one-year anniversary, we asked our partners how the programme is building the skills and confidence of workers, unions, employers and governments. And ensuring that everyone has access to productive work that delivers a fair income, rights and social protection and supports sustainable economic growth. 

Eric Kiniti smiles at the camera. He's wearing a purple suit and blue shirt.

Eric Kiniti, group corporate relations director, East Africa Breweries

“This programme was upscaled with funding from USAID and formally launched in March 2022. Building on our previous pilot with Sightsavers, we focused on rapidly bolstering disability inclusion in contracted sorghum farming through a commercial model that is more economically viable and self-sustaining.

“Last year, we worked with 173 people with disabilities who are actively involved in sorghum farming and equipped them with the skills to supply us with sorghum, which we use to make one of our brands called Senator Keg. Collectively, these farmers have put more than 70 acres under cultivation. The programme provides farmers with access to agricultural services, commercial insurance, links to commercial farming and the best agronomic advice available. We aim to work with about 700 farmers with disabilities across the eight counties and we are sure that this will make an impact in their lives and also in terms of how they are perceived by others.

“Overall, our aim is to have representation of people with disabilities in at least 33% of our entire value chain by 2025.”

Sally Nduta, wearing a beige jacket, speaks into a microphone.

Sally Nduta, chief executive, United Disabled Persons of Kenya (UDPK)

“A lot is still to be done to ensure that people with disabilities, both in employment and self-employment, are able to effectively engage in the labour market. So, we’ve taken the approach of building strong partnerships between ourselves as an OPD and the labour movement in Kenya, led by the Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU-K).

“We are conducting training for trade unions at national and local levels on disability rights, inclusion and mainstreaming. We are selecting a few trainers from the OPDs and trade unions who can cascade the training to their members.

“The trainers will then be teaching farmers about their labour rights. They will be training the farmers on the importance of joining a union, the principle of collective bargaining and negotiating fair prices, even as they engage with East Africa Breweries, so that they’re able to understand their rights and improve their livelihoods.

“We see it as more sustainable – when you have stronger trade unions that are able to speak to diversity and inclusion as institutions, right from a policy level down to their employees.”

A head and shoulders photo of Easter Okech, wearing glasses with her hair in a ponytail.

Easter Okech, executive director and programmes coordinator, Kenya Female Advisory Organization (KEFEADO)

“Women with disabilities face double discrimination – both in terms of them being a woman in the cultural context they come from, and because of the discrimination they face due to having a disability. That means that we have to continually look at how we can ensure gender equality is a part of the programme’s process – from recruiting farmers to ensuring that women can access leadership positions in the farmers’ hubs and that they are able to engage at different levels.

“In the sorghum supply chain, one of the issues is that culturally, sorghum is seen as a woman’s crop. So, we asked ourselves, why don’t we have more women participating in this value chain? However, we found that when sorghum is grown as a commercial crop, then it becomes a man’s crop. So, one of the things we are looking at is working to ensure that women and women with disabilities have equal access to economic opportunities within the programme. We’re also looking at issues beyond just access to land, like issues of land ownership and control and power over produce.

“It’s important that we discuss the issues of gender and social inclusion in communities and households so that discrimination, based on the issues of customary law, negative beliefs and traditional practices, is removed. This enables different people who want to engage in the two value chains, particularly women, to optimally do so.”