Labour Laws in Kenya - An Essential Guide for Employers

January 21st, 2023 by Felix Cheruiyot


Employers have legal obligations to uphold to ensure a harmonious relationship with employees. This comprehensive guide will enhance your grasp of Kenya's labour laws on salaries.

According to the World Bank, Kenya's labour force has approximately 24 million people, making up roughly two-thirds of the country's population. The agricultural sector employs the most people, followed by the manufacturing, trade, and service sectors.

The informal sector, which includes small-scale agriculture, trade, and services, also employs a large proportion of the workforce.

Such a large labour force requires laws to regulate workers' rights and salaries and employers' responsibilities.

This blog post provides a comprehensive overview of the labour laws in Kenya and explains the rights and responsibilities of employers and employees.

Let's dive in!

Understanding the complexities of Kenya's labour market.

Most workers in Kenya are self-employed or work in the informal sector, where wages are often low and job security is limited.

Formal employment, which includes workers in the public and private sectors, is less common and tends to be concentrated in urban areas.

The public sector is the largest formal employer in Kenya, followed by the manufacturing and financial sectors.

Who regulates the Kenyan labour market?

The Labour Institutions Act of 2007 regulates the Kenyan labour market. The act sets out the rights and obligations of employers and employees and the roles and functions of labour institutions. It covers employment contracts, working hours, leave entitlements, and health and safety standards.

The Labour Act also provides for the establishment of labour tribunals to resolve disputes between employers and employees.

In recent years, efforts have been made to improve working conditions in Kenya, particularly in the informal sector. The government introduced several initiatives to formalise informal enterprises and enhance the enforcement of labour laws.

Efforts have been made to increase access to education and training, particularly for marginalised groups like women and youth.

Despite these efforts, challenges remain. Unemployment and underemployment rates remain high, particularly among youth, and wages are often insufficient to meet the needs of workers and their families.

There are also significant disparities in the labour market, with women and disadvantaged groups frequently facing discrimination and limited opportunities.

Let's take a minute to explain what labour laws are and specifically what they say about salaries in Kenya:

Why are labour laws essential?

Labour laws are rules, regulations, and standards that govern the rights and obligations of employers and employees in the workplace.

These laws cover a wide range of issues, including:

The primary purpose of labour laws is to protect workers' rights and interests and ensure that they are treated fairly and respectfully.

Labour laws in Kenya also provide a framework for the relationship between employers and employees, helping to create a stable and productive work environment.

These laws vary from country to country and may be enacted at the national, regional, or local level. They may also be specific to certain industries or occupations.

In some countries, labour laws may be set out in a single comprehensive statute, while in others, they may be contained in separate pieces of legislation.

Who enforces labour laws in Kenya?

Various government agencies, such as labour departments or courts, may enforce labour laws.

Employers and employees who believe their rights have been violated can seek remedies through the legal system by filing a complaint or initiating a lawsuit.

Overall, labour laws are essential in ensuring that workers are treated fairly and have access to fair and decent working conditions. They also help to promote economic stability and growth by providing a framework for the orderly functioning of the labour market.

What rights do labour laws provide for workers in Kenya?

Labour laws in Kenya are designed to protect workers' rights and ensure they are paid equitably and treated fairly and justly in the workplace. These laws cover a wide range of issues, including:

Let's examine each of these worker rights more closely and explore how they are regulated in Kenya.

  1. Equal treatment

Kenyan workers have the right to be treated equally and without discrimination based on their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, or any other characteristic.

This means employers must not discriminate against workers in hiring, promotion, pay, or any other aspect of employment.

  1. Right to unionise

Kenyan workers have the right to form and join trade unions. Trade unions represent workers' interests and negotiate wages, working conditions, and benefits with employers.

Workers have the right to join a trade union of their choice, and employers must not discriminate against workers who are members of a trade union.

  1. Right to strike

Kenyan workers have the right to strike, which is the temporary withdrawal of labour to demand improvements in working conditions or wages.

However, specific requirements must be met before a strike can be legally conducted, such as giving notice to the employer and following the procedures set out in the Industrial Relations Act.

  1. Right to fair and safe working conditions

Employment laws in Kenya also give workers the right to fair and safe working conditions. This includes the right to a safe and healthy workplace, as well as the right to be protected from harassment and abuse.

Employers are responsible for ensuring that the workplace meets safety and health standards and providing personal protective equipment and other safety measures as needed.

Responsibilities of employers in Kenya

In addition to workers' rights, employers must fulfil certain responsibilities in Kenya. One of the most important of these is the payment of fair wages.

The government sets the minimum wage in Kenya, which varies based on the sector and work type.

Employers are obligated to pay their employees at least the minimum wage and are prohibited from paying lower wages based on discriminatory or unlawful reasons.

Employers are also responsible for providing safe and healthy working conditions for their employees. This includes ensuring that the workplace meets all relevant safety and health standards and providing personal protective equipment and other safety measures as needed.

Employers are also required to implement measures to prevent workplace harassment and abuse, as well as establish procedures for employees to report any incidents they encounter.

In addition to these responsibilities, employers in Kenya must also comply with all relevant labour laws and regulations. This includes the Labour Institutions Act.

The Labour Institutions Act establishes the legal framework for labour relations in Kenya, outlining regulations concerning various aspects including working hours, overtime compensation, and the termination of employment.

Employment contracts in Kenya

In Kenya, employment contracts can be written or oral, permanent or temporary.

Permanent employment contracts are ongoing and do not have a fixed term, while temporary employment contracts have a fixed term and expire after a certain period.

Casual employment contracts are another type of temporary employment contract that is typically for short-term or irregular work.

The content of employment contracts in Kenya can vary, but they generally include terms and conditions such as the following:

What is the minimum wage in Kenya?

The Minister of Labour in Kenya determines the minimum wage in consultation with the Central Organization of Trade Unions and the Federation of Kenya Employers.

The minimum wage is reviewed every two years or earlier if necessary. It, therefore, changes from time to time.

The minimum wage applies to all workers, regardless of their occupation or sector of employment. It is illegal for an employer to pay an employee less than the minimum wage.

The Kenyan labour law also requires employers to pay specific allowances to their employees. These include:

The amount of these allowances is determined by the employer, but they must be sufficient to meet the employee's needs.

It is crucial to note that the minimum wage and allowances in Kenya may not be sufficient to support a decent standard of living for an individual or a family.

Therefore, workers must negotiate fair wages. Employers must also aim to pay sufficient wages to meet their employees' basic needs.

How many hours should an employee work in a day in Kenya?

The maximum number of working hours per week in Kenya is 45 hours. This means employees can work a maximum of 9 hours daily, five days a week.

However, the working hours can also be arranged such that an employee works fewer hours per day but more days per week. For instance, an employee may work 8 hours daily, six days a week.

Is overtime regulated under Kenya's labour laws?

Overtime is work done beyond regular working hours. According to Kenyan labour laws, employees are entitled to overtime pay if they work more than 45 hours per week.

Overtime pay is calculated at 1.5 times the employee's average hourly rate for every hour worked beyond working hours.

However, some exceptions to the overtime rules apply. For example, employees classified as executives or professionals aren't entitled to overtime pay. Moreover, employees in specific industries, such as agriculture, may have different overtime rules.

Paternity and maternity leave rights.

Paternity and maternity leave are important provisions under Kenyan labour laws. They allow expectant and new parents to take time off work to care for their newborns and bond with them.

Paternity leave allows expectant fathers to take time off work to support their partners during pregnancy and the postpartum period.

Under Kenyan labour laws, expectant fathers are entitled to 14 days of paternity leave, which can be taken either before or after the child's birth. Depending on the circumstances, paternity leave can be continuous or alternate.

Maternity leave, on the other hand, is a period in which expectant mothers are entitled to take off work before and after the birth of their child. According to Kenyan labour laws, expectant mothers are entitled to a minimum of 90 days of maternity leave, which can be taken either before or after the birth of the child.

Maternity leave can be taken on continuous or alternate days, depending on the circumstances.

Both paternity and maternity leave provisions also help to support and protect the health and well-being of expectant and new parents.

Employers must adhere to these provisions and ensure that expectant and new parents can take the time off work that they are entitled to under Kenyan labour laws.

Health and safety regulations under Kenya's labour laws

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) sets out the legal framework for protecting workers' health and safety in the workplace.

The act applies to all employers, workers, and self-employed people and covers all types of work, including manual labour, office work, and domestic work.

Under OSHA, employers have a legal duty to ensure the health and safety of their employees. This includes providing a safe and healthy work environment and training workers to identify and manage any risks associated with their work.

Employers must also prevent accidents and injuries by implementing appropriate safety measures, such as installing safety equipment and providing protective clothing.

Workers also have a legal duty to take care of their health and safety and that of their colleagues. This includes following safety procedures and wearing any protective equipment provided.

OSHA also sets out specific regulations for different types of work, such as construction, mining, and manufacturing.

For example, construction workers must be provided with hard hats, protective footwear, and high-visibility clothing, while those in manufacturing must be protected from noise and vibration.

Overall, health and safety regulations in Kenya protect workers from accidents and injuries and ensure that they can work in a safe and healthy environment.

By following these regulations, employers and workers can help to create a safer and more productive workplace.

Termination of employment in Kenya

The Employment Act outlines the legal framework for the termination of employment.

An employer may terminate an employee's employment contract for various reasons, including redundancy, poor performance, or misconduct. All employees prematurely terminated must receive redundancy pay in accordance with the law.

If an employer intends to terminate an employee's contract, they are required to provide written notice of the termination along with the reasons for it.

The length of notice required depends on the length of the employee's service, with more extended periods of service requiring longer notice periods.

Employees can challenge the termination of their contract through the Ministry of Labour or the Industrial Court if they believe it is unfair.

The employee must file a claim within 90 days of the termination. An employee's employment contract may also contain specific provisions that must be followed during the termination process, such as a performance review or an offer of alternative employment within the company.

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Two essential goals of labour laws in Kenya are establishing and protecting workers' right to fair remuneration.

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