COTU (K)’s Secretary General Dr. Francis Atwoli Labour Day Message at State House Kenya, 2021.

COTU (K)’s Secretary General Dr. Francis Atwoli Labour Day Message at State House Kenya, 2021.
  • Foremost Your Excellency let me take this opportunity to humbly and with humility thank you for according us this rare moment to be here with you on behalf of the Kenyan workers.
  • Your Excellency, allow me to specifically recognize and appreciate you for your tireless efforts in protecting the lives of Millions of Kenyans and at the same time ensuring that our economy remains sustainable during this turbulent times of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
  • The economic havoc wrecked by the COVID-19 Pandemic remains unprecedented and has left millions of workers with far much less to celebrate.
  • However, we should not despair and COTU (K) as the umbrella workers’ body in the country will work closely with your government to make sure that we steer our economy to very high heights in order to address the job loses that we have all witnessed as a result of Covid-19.
  • Equally, Your Excellency, we would like to thank your government and specifically the following ministries, namely, the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government for providing an enabling environment for our organization and our Affiliates to conduct successful elections under these abnormalities.
  • Our special thanks go to Hon. Dr. Fred Matiang’i, Hon. Sen. Mutahi Kagwe as well as Hon. Simon Chelgui.

Labour Day

  • Labour Day has a unique history dating back to 1st May 1886 when trade unions in the United States of America decided to go on strike demanding that workers should not be allowed to work for more than 8 hours a day.
  • The strike was followed by a bomb blast in Chicago’s Haymarket Square popularly known as “Haymarket affair” on the 4th of May 1886 making May 1st to become one of the most significant dates in the workers’ history and was earmarked to celebrate and honour the contribution of working men and women.
  • These protests were instrumental in establishing the 8-hour work day in the world and since then, the 1st of May is celebrated as the International Labour Day in many counties across the world.
  • Here in Kenya, this history of Labour Day and by large the Labour Movement was equally not an easy one having evolved through difficult situations created mainly by the then colonial government which persistently defended employers in order to avoid seeing a strongly organized trade union of workers.
  • However, with the pressure mounting in the British colonies, there was a change of attitude by our colonial masters and this resulted in the enactment of the 1937 trade unions’ Ordinance in Kenya and the move led to the formation of various Unions in this country.
  • The situation continued to grow tense and Makhan Singh organized the Asian Railway Trade Union in which he openly associated himself with Africans despite the existence of colour and racial discrimination.
  • The situation grew from bad to worse and in 1947; a general strike of 15,000 out of the 20,000 workers in Mombasa was organized which left the entire city of Mombasa paralyzed and 400 people arrested.
  • The strike led by the late Chege Kibachia, who was leading the African Workers Federation that was later renamed the current Transport and Allied Workers Union and was also a close ally of the late Makhan Singh, it spread across the country and the crude efforts by government to contain the striking workers that ran from 13th to 25th January 1947, left three workers killed.
  • With the emergence of more unions, a national trade union center was formed called the Kenya Federation of Registered Trade Unions in 1952 with the late Aggrey Minya as the Secretary General and later became Kenya Federation of Labour, a precursor of the Central Organization of Trade Unions, COTU (K).
  • However, the 1952 declaration of a State of Emergence by the colonial government caused a great setback in the trade union movement considering near all its leaders in the labour movement were arrested and detained for allegedly being associated with Mau Mau.
  • Your Excellency, I must mention at this point that Africa, Asia and Latin America attained their independence through the struggle of Trade Unionists.
  • In our history Your Excellency, let me remember a few trade unionists who fought alongside our freedom fighters including our founding father of this Nation Mzee Jomo Kenyatta who was part of the Local Government Workers Union now the County Government Workers Union and those were Makhan Singh, Chege Kibachia, Aggrey Minya, Tom Joseph Mboya, Fred Kubai, Vicky Wachira, Ratib Hussein, Pio Gama Pinto, Ochola Ogaye Mark’Anyengo, Martin Shikuku, Clement Lubembe and Dennis Akumu were instrumental in attaining our independence.
  • Across Africa, trade unionist John Tetgar of Ghana, Ahmed Tilil of Tunisia, Paul Humphrey Lwande of Uganda, Rashid Kawawa of Tanzania, Abdoulaye Diallo of Guinea Conakry, Dempa Diop of Mali, Jay Naiduu and Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa who is now the current President all fought for our Continent’s total independence through the trade union movement.
  • It was until 1963 that the founding father of our nation Mzee Jomo Kenyatta declared this day 1st May to be celebrated as the international Labour Day together with the international community.

Measures taken by H.E on Covid-19

  • And even though we are living in unprecedented times, we are still proud of your Government Your Excellency for remaining alive to the plight of workers even in the wake of Covid-19.
  • I thank you, Your Excellency, and your Government for having made a budgetary allocation to the Agricultural Sector of our economy by supporting exporters both in the tea and floriculture industries where you made sure that first and foremost there is a provision for cargo space for their exports.
  • Secondly, were listed as essential service providers to enable them continue with business during this hard times of COVID-19 by accessing our Ports for export markets and finally employers had their V.A.T claims paid to support their efforts to keep workers in employment.

Tripartite partners & MoU

  • We call upon your government to continue supporting the social tripartite partners, namely, the Federation of Kenya Employers, COTU (K) and your government represented by the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection.
  • Your Excellency, our success during this time of the Pandemic came when these organizations developed and signed a tripartite agreement under the chairmanship of the Cabinet Secretary for Labour and Social Protection Hon. Simeon Chelgui on 30th April 2020.
  • This Memorandum of Understanding, Your Excellency, provided for Job Security and assured worrying workers that those who might have been laid off during this pandemic period will not lose their employment when the situation returns to normal.


  • Secondly, Your Excellency, don’t relent in your efforts in fighting corruption because:
  • It is through this vice that we have lost our forest cover hence attracting massive deforestation which has largely interfered with our environment.
  • It is through corruption that Kenyans cannot obtain strategic medicine and quality medical cover in our public hospitals.
  • It is through corruption that those charged with responsibilities of restructuring our cities cannot achieve their desired infrastructural development changes and keep out the menace of informal transport and hawkers in our international cities like elsewhere in the world.
  • It is through corruption that we lose so many people on our roads on daily basis because of allowing crowded and un-roadworthy vehicles that have also denied Kenyans the opportunity to have an organized public transport system in our cities. It is worth noting that Kenya is the only country in the world that lacks an organized public transport for workers and other Kenyans.
  • It is through corruption that our students have continued to be sold stolen examinations and answers and receiving fake degrees from our institutions of higher learning.
  • It is through corruption that we cannot attract both foreign and domestic investments in this country with the obsession of demanding a 10% or more on such investments.
  • Your Excellency, on our procurement systems right away from the County Governments to the National Government, this area has been infiltrated by unscrupulous people known as tenderpreneurs and for us to develop in this world of digital and e-commerce trade, we appeal to Your Excellency, not to get tired fighting this menace. Kenyan workers support you and they will continue to support you.
  • This, equally, reminds us that unless we support you to stop corruption, we will not take off as a Nation economically and development wise.

Development of Asian tigers

  • Your Excellency, I would like to remind you that in 1968 the founding father of our Nation Mzee Jomo Kenyatta gave a grant of USD 5 Million to the government of Malaysia since Kenya was far ahead in terms of its total GDP and its economic performance compared to the governments of Singapore, South Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and other Asian countries that have since overtaken us.
  • We hope and trust that in you, we can realize the dreams of our forefathers.


Constitutional change & BBI

  • Your Excellency, I cannot end my Speech without talking about Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), and let me on behalf of Kenyan workers inform you that at our recently concluded 14th COTU (K) Quinquennial Conference held at Tom Mboya Labour College on 9th April 2021, one of the Key resolutions made was that as Kenyan workers we will stand with the handshake team led by Your Excellency together with your Brother, The Right Honorable Prime Minister Raila Amolo Odinga in ensuring that one of the best legacy you can leave behind for Kenyans is a new Constitution that addresses the pertinent areas of our governance which normally causes hue and cry immediately after every general election and the recipients being workers, women and children.


Wage Increase

  • Lastly, on Wage increase, I am not asking for any wage increase in this abnormal situation, but I am appealing to employers through you Your Excellency to individually or collectively through the Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) to meet their sectoral trade unions and make some minimum adjustments in their basic salary earnings together with other emoluments during these hard times of Covid-19.
  • Even yourself, Your Excellency, in whom we have known to be very sympathetic with every Kenyan and more so to workers cause in your own thinking without being pushed by anybody including myself, you are free to make some minimum adjustments to address the punctures and holes left in our pockets as a result of Covid-19.

Jacqueline Kamau

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