By Phyllis Wakiaga
In a report on COVID-19 and the world of work the International Labour Organization (ILO) highlights that protection of workers and their families from the risk of infection should be a top priority for all economies at this time.
On the other hand, the report urges, it is critical that we look at stimulating demand to protect those facing income losses due to reduced economic activity.
As this is a new phenomenon for all, many countries continue to develop strategies that straddle the delicate balance between safety and protecting their economies. And more so considering, especially in Kenya, that a huge demographic relies on high contact jobs and businesses. Whilst a lot of economies have resulted in stimulus packages as a band-aid solution to cushion citizens from the immediate shock of the disruption, the question of how to revive markets even as the virus persists still remains pertinent.
For instance, the US Senate has agreed on a ‘coronavirus rescue package’, which would see cash payments being made to more than 100 million Americans. In another instance, the UK government has unveiled a plan to pay up to 80% of a worker’s salary, covering up to £2,500 a month. Denmark also has also outlined a plan in which the Government promises to pay up to 90% of a worker’s salary to private businesses to avoid any foreseeable job losses.
The Government of Kenya has also set aside some funds to support the most vulnerable populations of our country during this crisis through direct cash transfers. But more than this, we have also seen the private sector’s concerted efforts to support these intiatives by Government in various ways.
For example, local manufacturers’ drastic response to provide Protective Equipment for Kenyans is just the tip of the metamorphosis industries and businesses have undergone to ensure that our local economy doesn’t come to a halt and to as much as possible mitigate a huge amount of loss. From constructing and renovating of COVID-19 Isolation Centres, to the invention of ventilators, manufacturers have shifted operations and recalibrated their production lines, to secure jobs for their employees and provide the necessary basic items to Kenyan households. Additionally, they have given donations in terms of food, sanitary items, and funds through various bodies including the Kenya COVID Fund to supplement Government interventions and efforts by grassroots organizations.
The President recently said that ‘the economy is important but there is no point of having an economy amongst people who do not have life.’ It is people that drive the economy; it is people that constitute markets which in turn stimulate supply and demand and pump money into the economy. It is people that bring ideas and creativity, innovation, invention and teams. Without people none of this is possible.
Thereby even as we continue to think of ways to revive the parts of our economy that we had ‘put in a comma’ so to speak, we must first factor in the physical, emotional and psychological well-being of our people. People are at their best in a safe environment. This also calls for us, as a country to look at our health systems and reconstruct them to be more responsive and effective in order to deal with an ever evolving crisis.
As industry we are committed to working with all facets of Government to meet the needs of our country now and in the future. How we pull together now, will set us ahead of the curve within the region especially in the wake of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement. The crisis needs not be defined by losses alone, it can be defined by our ingenuity and ability to adapt.
The Writer is the CEO of Kenya Association of Manufacturers and the UN Global Compact Kenya Chapter Board Chair. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.