Millions are jobless due to the pandemic

Close to two million Kenyans lost jobs or sources of income as of June 2020, a staggering number that inadvertently increased unemployment in the country.

Data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) indicates that the number of people in employment fell to 15.87 million between April and the end of June compared to 17.59 million the previous quarter.

It is in this period that Kenya imposed coronavirus-induced lockdown that led to layoffs and pay cuts, and with some measures still in place, the country is yet out of the woods.

The worst-hit companies are in the tourism, transport, horticulture, communication and education sectors.

Young people were the hardest hit by the job cuts compared to their counterparts aged above 35 years in an economic setting that is plagued by a hiring freeze on the back of sluggish corporate earnings.

The unemployment rate has doubled to 10.4 percent as compared to 5.2 percent in March.

Young workers between the ages of 20 and 29 years accounted for 63 percent of the lost jobs or 1,158,466 positions.

It could mean that employers were keen to keep experienced staff on their payroll even as they struggled to preserve cash amid a plunge in sales.

At Kenya Airways, there is a thick cloud of helplessness as its more than 4,000 employees wait for a government bailout and the lifting of travel restrictions. The pay of a majority of its staff was cut by 75 per cent.

The national airline announced plans to send home 182 pilots and more than 400 cabin crew. 22 pilots have already been served with redundancy letters.

But the data could equally fail to aptly capture the thousands of Kenyans who work in inform sectors hence they are not counted in the official data.

A study by Twaweza’s Sauti za Wananchi mobile-phone panel survey released in October 2020 affirmed that six out of ten households depend on a single household member to bring in income, painting the picture of the damage job losses had on families. A further three out of ten have a second household member bringing in income.

The study stated that the most common reason given for doing no work was the COVID-19 pandemic. Others pointed to health reasons or a lack of seasonal or casual work. The casual work had equally dried out due to limited economic activities to slow the spread of the virus.

It explained that citizens doing no work during the previous seven days drew on three main coping strategies: assistance from family and friends (6 percent), savings (4 percent), and selling something (2 percent).

For instance, the Chinese contractor building the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) sent 4,013 Kenyans and 471 Chinese expats on unpaid leave due to the coronavirus crisis.

Currently, the majority of the measures put in place have been lifted with the exception of the curfew. But this same curfew is limiting many economic activities that operate including restaurants, bars and long-distance travel among others.

An increase in unemployment and lack of engagements could spiral insecurity across the country.

Getting out of this economic hole will take time with concerted efforts from all industry players to enable businesses to return to normalcy.

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