My name is Cecily Mwangi, a Trade Unionist, and the first female General Secretary of a Trade Union in Kenya. I believe that workers’ rights are fundamental human rights and that the empowerment of women is key to building a sustainable nation. This inspired me to found a Trade Union operating in Kenya by the name Kenya Union of Hair and Beauty Workers, a national union representing all workers in Hair and Beauty Industry in the Republic of Kenya.

The Union was established in the year 2009 and registered as a trade union by the Registrar of Trade Unions Registration No. TU/157. The union represents both formal and informal workers whose majority of the labour force is women who are marginalized due to their low level of education and nature of the work they do. Currently we have a total membership of over six thousand (6000) members from both sectors. These workers lack exposure, information on rights, connectivity and live in a world of their own. The formal workers and the community have no respect of the informal workers in the industry who end up being single mothers and their children do not have opportunity to go to school due to the fact that their mothers are paid on “commission” which is not guaranteed. Commission or no commission the informal workers have financial commitments by the end of the day. They therefore need to be organized to be able to effectively exercise their rights and bargain collectively as well as their other fundamental rights at work. They need voice and bargaining power.

Kenya Union of Hair and Beauty Workers has its members in four counties in Kenya, namely, Nairobi, Machakos, Kiambu and Laikipia. The major challenges we have is organizing and retaining them into union membership.

When the union was established, its core business was to have a legal identity with clear standing in relevant policy regulatory, legal frame work including social and economic rights in view of the above, the union has the following story to tell.

In the year 2015, the union established a Savings and Credit Co-operative Society (SACCO) for all the workers in the industry whose current membership is one thousand (1000) members with a saving of Kshs. 1.2 million equivalent to (12000 USD). Through the Sacco, the members have taken loans to take their children to school, pay dowry, meet medical bills and more so has given them dignity, knowing that they are Sacco members where they can borrow money for immediate needs.

We have carried out intense advocacy campaigns which has empowered the informal workers with information on their right to social protection and as a result, they are enrolling as members of National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) and National Social Security Fund (NSSF).

For the formal workers, the union has organized and recruited members into union membership and we have managed to sign Recognition Agreements and Collective Bargaining Agreements with various Hair and Beauty manufacturing companies where the workers have gained better wages and other better terms and conditions of work. Workers in these industries now have information on workers and human rights which they are demanding.

We endeavor to ensure that the working poor in the Hair and Beauty Industry who are union members have basic information on their rights and we are proud that the workers, particularly the women are using this information to pursue their livelihoods as well as commercial rights.



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