Kenya’s senate is considering a new bill that would make it illegal for employers to call, text, email, or give assignments to their workers outside of work hours, on weekends, or on public holidays.
The Employment (Amendment) Bill, which is sponsored by Nandi senator Samson Cherarkey, wants to give Kenyan workers “the right to disconnect in the digital age” and protect them from employers who make them do extra work without paying them.
The bill states that, “If an employer contacts an employee when there are no mutually agreed-upon off-work hours, the employee is not required to respond and has the right to disconnect, and if the employee chooses to respond, the employee is entitled to be paid for doing so.”
Quartz Africa Weekly says that Kenya’s future of work is moving online because internet and devices are getting cheaper.
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The bill asserts that employees’ constant digital connectivity is cutting into their free time, which affects their work-life balance.
To correct that, the news source said that the bill’s goal is to create a “balance between work and private life” so that digital technology can improve the quality of life for workers.
When making their out-of-work policies, firms with more than 10 workers will have to talk to their workers or trade unions.
Employers who don’t follow the law will have to pay a $4,000 fine.
Quartz said that the bill can’t be sent to the senate until Feb. 13, when lawmakers get back to work after a break.
Kenya’s law-making process says that it will take 90 days for the senate to read it all and vote on it.
If it passes, it will be sent to the national assembly for another 90 days before the president signs it.
If the bill becomes law, Kenya would be the first country in Africa to protect workers from burnout, fatigue, and long hours of unpaid work.
This would give workers more time with their families.
“On Fridays, I carry files home to work on during the weekend. I’m not paid for it, but I know my diligence will earn me better pay in future,” Susan Gituku, a credit officer at a Nairobi-based microfinance told Quartz. Kenyan law allows a maximum of 40 working hours for a five-day week (eight per day) but some companies extend that to 12 hours a day in pursuit of profits.
Meanwhile, the executive director of the Federation of Kenyan Employers, Jacqueline Mugo, disagreed with the tenets of the right to switch-off from work.
Mugo said the bill would create indiscipline among employees, hurt the country’s micro-economy, and prevent the creation of new job opportunities in the public and private sectors.
“[It will] introduce new stringent measures that will curtail the prerogative to manage enterprises by the owners. This will automatically pose a challenge to industrial relations in Kenya,” she told Quartz.