Unions isolate Atwoli as opposition to Finance Bill mounts

Cotu Secretary-General Francis Atwoli

Cotu Secretary-General Francis Atwoli during a shop stewards meeting at Solidarity Building in Nairobi on April 29, 2023.

Photo credit: Wilfred Nyangaresi | Nation Media Group

Central Organisation of Trade Unions Kenya (COTU- K) boss Francis Atwoli is facing isolation from workers for supporting the Finance Bill 2023.

Opposition to the bill has been growing, with COTU-affiliated unions distancing themselves from Mr Atwoli, who by virtue of his position should be defending workers.

On 8 May, Atwoli attacked civil servants and trade unionists for protesting against the three percent housing levy included in the Finance Bill 2023.

In a statement issued in May, Atwoli said issues surrounding the levy had already been discussed in a meeting between the president and union leaders.

"It is rather unfortunate that even after the COTU (K) General Secretary invited all trade union leaders and the President of Kenya to engage in social dialogue on various issues including the 3% housing fund levy, those who skipped the meeting are now complaining about the outcome of the meeting," COTU said.

But the unions insist that they were not consulted and that the proposed levy will hurt workers already burdened by the cost of living.

 "The tax authorities continue to overburden public sector workers whose salaries are deducted at source, while doing very little for private sector workers," the Public Sector Unions said in a statement.

Unions have also warned of industrial action if parliament approves the tax measures, which workers fear could reduce their disposable income.  On Monday, union leaders claimed that the bill, if passed, would be a burden on workers.

Unions that have protested include the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut), Kenya Universities Staff Union (Kusu), Universities Academic Staff Union (Uasu), Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union (KMPDU), Kenya Union Of Domestic Hotels Educational Institutions Hospitals and Allied Workers, Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN) and Kenya Union of Clinical Officers (KUCO).

"We consider these proposals to be not only inhumane but degrading to the Kenyan worker. The plethora of taxes and levies in the Bill will sink the worker, especially now that the Kenyan civil servant's salary has not been improved for six years or more," the unions said in a memorandum.

The workers' unions said their representatives were not consulted during the drafting of the bill and that they would only accept a bill that proposes measures aimed at reducing the financial burden on the shoulders of Kenyan workers.

"We therefore reject the introduction of the Housing Fund Levy until proper consultation and negotiation with workers' representatives has taken place," they said.

UASU General Secretary Constantine Wasonga warned that workers would not accept the levy.

"We will not betray you on this issue by going to State House," the outspoken trade unionist said.

Atwoli supports the proposed housing levy, saying it's not a tax but "a great initiative to build low-cost houses for Kenyan workers".

But unions insist it will be a blow to workers who will be left with little income.

"It amounts to forced savings and illegal borrowing and will be disastrous for households left with little income for basic survival," the unions complained.

Officials are also opposed to proposals to increase Pay As You Earn (PAYE) from the current 30 per cent to 35 per cent for those earning Sh500,000 and above. They said many workers had not received a salary increase in the past six years.

"We therefore reject the proposal to increase the upper bracket of PAYE from the current 30 per cent to 35 per cent and alternatively propose a reduction from 30 per cent to 25 per cent. We believe that this will put more money in the pockets of mwananchi and thus help stimulate consumption," they said.