AMENYA: Lazy workers of Kenya work
By Albert Amenya,
As we approach Labour Day on first May, I have much interest in the unemployment problem in Kenya. That’s why most of my opinion pieces dwell on entrepreneurship and how young people could embrace it.
Several times, I’ve wondered why nothing is being done to create jobs in our country even as schools keep producing graduates that everyone agrees are unemployable.
I’ve wondered why more universities are being created when the existing ones are not what they should be. Perhaps the policymakers have been ignoring my advice.
Yet, I’m in love with everyone that feels concerned about the problem or has the answers to my questions.
Now, is there a relationship between the rate of unemployment and the poor work ethic in the country? I believe there is.
I see no way of explaining the paradox of having too many people looking for work and having too many employers seeking qualified and dedicated workers.
I know Kenya is full of paradoxes: a country that exports what it doesn’t have and imports what it has; a country where banks lend money to those who already have money but refuse to lend to those who need money; a country where people borrow to buy things they don’t need; a country where the rich grow richer and the poor become poorer; a rich country of poor people.
To these should now be added: a country where the majority are jobless and yet the few who have jobs refuse to work.
It is not “Karl Marx’s revenge”, as The Economist once put it. And it is not because workers are poorly paid. As a matter of fact, what an employee needs most from his employer is skills, not riches.
As they say, Kenya is filled with moneyed people but not wealthy people.
I don’t mean that earning salary is not important. But a worker ought to strive to make a good product that can fetch money for his employer. It is from the money so made that salaries are paid.
Poor attitude to work was once limited to government establishments. Now, it is getting worse even in private establishments.
A young man comes pleading for a job. Once you hire him, he thanks his stars. He works hard for the first week or two and then starts waiting for pay day.
I have observed, also, that some workers in big eateries like restaurants have turned beggars or thieves.
Recently, I entered one of the exclusive restaurants in town with Prof Manyora. We went to have a cup of uji. We asked the waiter to serve us two gourds of uji worth Sh400.
He gave the waiter Sh500 we waited for the waiter to bring the change but he never showed up. He decided to tip himself with professor’s change. He assumed that the change too measly to be claimed by a public figure of professor’s standing.
Each time I have eaten at the big joints, the cashiers and waiters have never got the correct change. If it’s Sh100 and below, they don’t expect you to bother about the change at all. The thievery performed by supermarket cashiers and bank tellers is commonplace and needs no repeating here.
When I was growing up in Eldoret, most artisans (fundis) that my father hired for one job or the other almost always cheated him.
So disappointed have many employers been that they have felt like closing shop.
A restaurateur I know found out that she was losing customers because the cooks and waiters she hired were coming late to work. And they would dutifully observe the closing time; in fact, they refuse to serve customers if it’s fifteen minutes to closing time, and not because there is no food.
Another friend, a CEO, confided in me last week that he would be seeking a general manager from a foreign country this year because he could no longer tolerate the work ethic of his Kenyan employees. Apart from those who stole his money at the slightest opportunity, there were those that embarked on ego trips once their designation changed from employee to manager.
An Indian confessed the same thing in my presence, 3 years ago. Employees at a textile firm run by the Indian in Eldoret, were threatening to stop work because “Management” had refused to approve car loans for senior staff.
In brief, this is what Patel (let me not reveal his name because he may still be in Kenya) narrated: I don’t understand what these people are saying. My grandfather was a doctor but he never drove a car until my father, an engineer, bought one for him. I have not bought a car yet for my father who set up this business I’m doing in Kenya. But my own employees want a car each. Is this how you people live in Kenya?
I won’t pretend that I don’t know what has been happening to our people. When one of my lecturers spoke of “a revolution of rising expectations”, this is what he meant. We have grown to believe that everybody must go to university, everybody must drive a car, and everybody must be a millionaire.
When parents and teachers help candidates to cheat in exams, the message is clear. This young generation of Kenyans have grown to hate work because they have found that there is no dignity of labour in their country.
Virtues like hard work, honesty and dedication have skidded into the cesspool. Year on year, we award plaques of honour to thieves and charlatans while hardworking but poor workers are never noticed.
It’s one of the curses of government jobs. Recurrent expenditure now takes upward of 70 per cent of government’s resources because jobs are being created for idlers.
Having a job means having a piece of the national cake, many think. Partly as a result, most workers (even in the private sector) harbour the impression that jobs are not meant to be done but to produce salaries.
I’m yet to understand why an employee at one government agency should earn four times the salary of his mate at another government agency doing a similar task.
Sooner than later, this baggage – having an unproductive workforce – will reach a denouement and the bubble will burst. Job security will disappear even in the civil service.
As I prepare to retire fully to my Banana business, I advise young Kenyan workers to turn a new leaf. Any venture founded on dishonesty is bound to fail.
One of the lessons I have learned in about 10 years of working for others is that he who works hard for someone else works hard for himself – it is the same work ethic that he would take to his own work. And hard work doesn’t kill.
It is said that the reward for hard work is even more work.
The battle cry of Marxism or communist revolutions was “Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but the chains!”
About 150 years after The Communist Manifesto was written, we in Kenya should say, “Workers of the world, work! The chains are meant for the dogs, not you!”
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