Incentive Pay Raises and Terminations Targeting Incentive Staffs
Under which protocols and laws do Kakuma incentive payments draw their foundations?
Refugee staff layoffs continued even as workload increased in response to the Annual Operation Review (AOR) recommendations. In Kakuma, camp refugees hold an estimated 90% of jobs in humanitarian agencies. They earn monthly “incentives,” payments ranging between from 2,500 to 7,500 Kenyan Shillings irrespective of their levels of education or their position titles. The refugees believe that they are exploited by the camp governing powers that determine their pay.
The 1951 Convention refers to specific economic and social rights to which refugees are entitled, including the right to gainful employment and education. The Convention also says that refugees are to be accorded the same treatment as nationals with respect to rationing system and public relief and assistance (Articles. 20 and 23).
The untold story of refugee labor in Kakuma reveals violations of international and national labor laws. Employed refugees go through a process of recruitment that assesses their qualifications but does not allow for salary negotiations. In Kakuma, the incentives are nominal cash payments of about 40–90USD per month. The incentives were determined by all agencies under the guidance of UNHCR. Different amounts were set for different refugee staff positions.
The Annual Operation Review (AOR) conducted in August 2010 in Kakuma refugee camp recommended that incentives be increased. Many refugees have confirmed that there have been no real increases, however. “What happened was that they terminated many of our colleagues and gave us the money saved through these cutbacks. But the workload has doubled,” said a refugee staff working for incentives in the health sector. The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) terminated the largest number of incentive-based staff members. The organizations did not reduce production in the aftermath of layoffs.
Attempts in 2010 by refugee workers to go on strike against exploitative payment schemes failed. NGO incentive-based workers leave their households before 7:00 am without breakfast and are expected to work until 1:00 pm. Energy levels are low. This partly explains why the education sector consistently underperforms year after year. “This is what they call free education,” said a health worker in Kakuma one. “All parents wish to be paid salaries instead of incentives so they can have their children’s education paid for and can ensure that their children can access quality education that is not currently provided in the camp,” he added.
Food prices in the market have risen, and the devaluation of the Kenyan currency has made life in the camp even more difficult. A soda that used to be sold for 25 Ksh in the nearby town of Kitale is sold today for 60 Ksh. A bus ticket from Kakuma to Nairobi today is 2,500 ksh as opposed to 1,200 ksh charged over the past 3 years. A significant number of Kakuma inhabitants take two or three buses to Kenyan cities on a daily basis. Refugees cited inflation extensively during the Annual Operation Review. UNHCR accepted the recommendation for an increase in the incentive and pay structure to match the levels at the Dadaab refugee camp.
Refugees who visited Dadaab in 2010 reported that there are still disparities in the incentive levels between the two camps. A counterpart manager in Daadaab earns between 5,000 ksh and 10,000 ksh. UNHCR has limited the maximum level of pay for the same position in Kakuma to 7,500ksh. It is unclear who set up the policy of Dadaab and who set up the one for Kakuma. It is also unclear what the justification is for the difference in pay.
The UNHCR working document on harmonized incentives scales in Kakuma will be adopted in 2011. The document has outlined six levels of incentive-based staff. Level one includes workers from Chairman-bench in court to youth workers. These workers receive the least money. Level two includes administrative assistants and vector control assistants. These workers are paid a monthly incentive of 3,000 ksh. Level three is assigned to assistant supervisors and vector assistant supervisors, who are paid 3,500 ksh. Level four includes accountants and trainer supervisors who receive about 4,000 ksh. Level five is assigned to administrative data entry clerks, office assistants, and training deputy head teachers, who earn 5,500 ksh. The highest level is the sixth, which includes refugee counterpart managers earning the maximum of 7,500 ksh.
In Kenya, nurses, teachers, drivers, and midwives earn an average salary of 50,000 ksh. Officers in different NGOs earn 100,000ksh, while NGO managers earn 200,000 ksh and above. They receive insurance, accommodations and meals for themselves and their immediate family members.
A refugee security guard is paid 2,500 Kenyan shillings. Many refugees have no employment options in the camp since their movement is restricted. And the Kenyan government has not issued the work permits inside the camp. Refugees believe that incentives are a waste. “I am afraid I will never inherit anything from my parents,” said a 19 year-old boy born in the camp. The elderly who are coming to a retirement age have no savings. They are apprehensive and full of sorrow about their futures. According to the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the right to work is defined as the right ‘of everyone to access the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts’ (Article 6). This outlines the obligations the humanitarian mode of assistance has toward refugees living in restricted quarters.
Many refugees have no hope of returning to their countries due to the circumstances which forced them to flee. Although their governments often call for their repatriation, their personal safety is in jeopardy. Their children do not know their ancestral land. Many cannot even speak their mother tongue. The elderly worry that they will leave no memories to their children. They believe their children are wasting away in the refugee camp even as they qualify to be Kenyan citizens by birth.