By Georgina Ogalo-Omondi | Rosemary Chepkorir | Hellen Mutua

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The early 1990s saw a transformation in the Kenyan labour market with the marked rise in part-time and casual workers. This was brought about by efforts to cut labour costs since casual and part-time workers were thought to be ineligible to employment benefits as compared to full-time employees. The trend continues to date, more so in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic which has wreaked havoc on the global and national economy and is set to continue doing so. It is therefore an appropriate time to consider the nature and meaning of part-time employment; the advantages and disadvantages it offers to both employers and employees alike; and the prevailing law on part-time employment.

What is Part-time Employment?

The International Labour Organization Part-Time Work Convention, 1994 (the Convention) defines a part-time worker as an employed person whose normal hours of work are less than those of comparable full-time workers. Locally, the term “normal” working hours is not defined in the Employment Act, 2007 (the Act) making it difficult to define a part-time worker. The Act confers power on employers to regulate employees’ working hours in line with their contract of service but does not expressly state the maximum working hours of an employee.

Rule 5 of the Regulation of Wages (General) Order which constitute the regulations under the Labour Institutions Act, 2007 provides that the normal working week shall constitute a maximum of fifty-two (52) hours spread out over six (6) days of a calendar week. It further provides that the normal working week of a person doing night work should be not more than sixty (60) hours per work week. While this rule provides the law on maximum working hours, nothing is stated about normal working hours or the threshold from which part-time work begins. This is despite part-time workers constituting a significant number of the workforce in Kenya. Foreign legislations are known to provide a threshold under which an employee is considered to be working part time, which should stand as a challenge to the Kenyan Parliament to define normal working hours as well as to provide clarity in matters concerning part-time employees.

Pros and Cons of Part-time Work to Employees

Whilst most employees would opt to be employed on a full-time basis, some are forced to take the part-time work route for diverse reasons. However, it is important to note that part-time work offers certain advantages to employees. First, it can be a suitable learning process for a young person hoping to gain clarity as to which field they should pursue a career in. It also allows people with other pressing commitments to take up work in a flexible manner. This proves to be a viable option for students who ordinarily attend classes as well as primary care givers who have to take care of their loved ones at home.

Part-time work also has its disadvantages considering that it is perceived to be a cost cutting measure for employers meaning that such employees often do not enjoy the employment benefits that full-time employees do. These include health benefits, provision of food, water and housing, paid leave and set out procedure during termination and dismissal. Further, part-time workers often do not get the full protection of the Act as accorded to full-time employees, hence providing a platform for employers to exert greater control over them. This is more so because such employees are not unionisable given the temporary nature of their work. For these reasons, most employees tend to seek full time employment as the employment benefits, legislative protection and ability to join a union contribute towards greater stability and security at work.

Pros and Cons of Part-time Work to Employers

Offering part-time employment is an attractive option to employers because of the cost cutting opportunities it presents owing to the fact that part-time workers are considered to be ineligible for employee benefits. Furthermore, employers can exert greater control over the labour force since the employees are not unionisable. In addition to the above, hiring and dismissing part-time workers does not require the procedural rigmarole that is envisaged under the Act.

From the employers’ perspective, more so those that require less skilled labour, there are no pitfalls in hiring part-time employees. For those that require highly skilled employees such as universities when hiring lecturers, there is need to consider the cost of high employee turnover especially where the employees find better terms elsewhere. Suffice to state, recruitment and training processes for highly skilled employees, whether employed on a part time of full-time basis tend to be costly.

Rights of Part-time Employees under the Convention

From the above exposition, Kenyan labour legislation does not provide for part-time employees. Therefore, Kenyan Courts tend to look to the Convention to determine the meaning of part-time work and the rights of such workers. This is the practice despite the fact that Kenya has not ratified the Convention.

The Convention largely treats part-time employees the same way it does full-time employees. It engenders the view that the only difference between part-time and full-time employees should be in the pay they receive. To this end, the Convention states that part-time workers have the right to unionize and are entitled to the conditions that full-time employees are entitled to. This includes maternity/paternity leave, sick leave, paid annual leave and public holidays, and procedural fairness when it comes to termination of employment. The Convention also proffers voluntary transition from full-time to part-time work arrangements on the part of employees. This is to prevent such employees from being relegated to part-time status against their will. Taking the approach of the Convention, part-time employees ought to be treated as full-time employees and be entitled to the full benefits that come with such status. If the hours worked is all that separates full-time and part-time employees, then it is only just to accord them the same rights and benefits.

Kenyan Jurisprudence

The Act defines an employee as a person employed for wages or a salary and includes an apprentice and indentured learner. It does not go on to differentiate between full-time and part-time employees but makes reference to the type of work employees undertake using the terms “piece-work” and “task.” Piece-work is defined as any work that an employee does and is paid according to the amount of work performed irrespective of the time occupied in its performance. On the other hand, a task is defined as such amount of work as can, in the opinion of an authorised officer, be performed by an employee in an ordinary working day.

These definitions are only used to define how an employee is to be paid. For a task, they are to be paid on a quantum meruit basis, i.e. for the portion of the task that has been done as at the time their pay is due. For piece-work, employees are to be paid in proportion to the amount of work they have done that month or when they complete the work, whichever is earlier. Notably, in both cases the worker is identified as an employee, and not a casual worker. This means that they are entitled to the full benefits and conditions of work that employees are entitled to.

In Valentine Ataka v Karatina University (2019) eKLR, the claimant, a lecturer employed on a part-time basis, sought to be paid his dues as per the oral contract of employment he had entered with the respondent. The Court found that he was indeed a part-time employee at the university as per the contract and performed work that was in the nature of piece work even though the employer defined the periods within which he was to do his work. The Court considered the provisions of the Convention in making a finding that the employee was indeed a part-time employee but did not consider the rights of such employees as the issue did not arise. The Court ordered the respondent to pay the claimant his dues for the work he had done.

In Peterson Guto Ondieki v Kisii University (2020) eKLR, the claimant, who was a lecturer, sought among other prayers, that the Court compel the respondent to engage him on a full-time basis as a permanent employee as he was being treated differently compared to his colleagues. His claim for discrimination was met with the defence that he was a part-time lecturer and therefore could not expect to be treated the same way as full-time lecturers. Further, the Court cited the freedom of contract that allowed employers and employees to agree on the terms and conditions of employment. The position of a part-time worker in Kenya was not explored nor the attendant rights. However, the Court cited the Act’s protections and provisions without distinguishing the position of the employee as a part-time worker.

Lastly, in Simon Ndungu Kabau v Hillock Country Club (2014) eKLR, the Court considered a claim alleging unlawful termination seeking terminal dues and certificate of service, among others. One of the issues that the Court considered is whether the claimant was a part-time employee as the respondent had claimed. The Court considered the hours that the employee worked to determine this issue. On finding that it was common ground that the employee worked forty (40) hours a week, the Court held that the claimant was a full-time employee and proceeded to apply the protections outlined in the Act for employees.

From the jurisprudence above, Kenyan legislation remains unclear as to the definition and the rights of part-time employee. It could therefore be argued that since the Act does not differentiate employees on this basis, part-time employees should be treated the same as full-time employees, with the difference between them being the salary paid. In addition to the above, the maximum working hours as stated in the foregoing, is fifty-two (52) hours in a six (6) days’ work week, presents the need for Parliament to clearly set out the working hours that constitute part-time work.

Parting Shot

Part-time employees are only differentiated from full-time employees in that the former work for comparatively lesser hours. Kenya has neither defined the work-hour threshold that differentiates the two nor the rights of such employees. Part-time work offers advantages and disadvantages for both employees and employers, which both should consider carefully before entering into an employment contract. Whilst the Convention treats full-time and part-time employees the same with a difference in salary, the Act is silent on their position, leaving the labour market to treat them largely as casual workers. Notably, Courts have also not offered express guidance on the rights of part-time employees as against full-time employees. The ball is therefore in the Kenyan Parliament’s court; to adopt the Convention and provide clarity as to the status of part-time work and the rights of such workers.