MOMBASA, Kenya – One of the first tests of Kenya’s progressive new labor law began slowly.
First, piles of trash formed outside restaurants and shops here in Kenya’s island city. Then traffic jams brought downtown Mombasa to a standstill when, after two agonizing months without a paycheck, most of the city’s 2,600 public workers went on strike in protest.
Three years ago, such organized action would have been illegal in Kenya. But a clause in Kenya’s new 2010 constitution explicitly guarantees workers the right to organize, bargain collectively—and to strike.
And so, when Mombasa officials reacted to the strike by going to court to force workers back to their jobs, the judge ruled in favor of the workers. In a matter of days, Mombasa’s city employees were back to work with pay after officials scrambled to fix the glitches in the county’s new payroll system that had caused the problem.
As workers across Kenya look to benefit from their progressive constitution, Mombasa’s public sector may serve as a model for what the new standards can accomplish.