At a recent public lecture, family lawyer Judy Thongori said the economy rests on the back of the family. From her experience, she narrated instances where executives and entrepreneurs, because of ongoing family problems, failed their organisations at crucial moments.
Naturally, our productivity is linked to our family’s wellbeing. However, the linkage of that wellness to our macroeconomics gives me pause. It reconstitutes the family into a factor of production. If the family’s input is not compensated, then businesses are reaping where they have not sown.
Family-to-industry subsidies in Africa are commonplace. Direct subsidies include using family resources such as labour, housing and vehicles for the family business without compensation.
Indirectly, families surrogate employers, by paying medical expenses including treatment for work-related injuries. Further, they provide psychological support for workers. These subsidies render the family a free factor of production.
Fairness, a cardinal principle of sustainable economic development, entails compensating all stakeholders to the process, including the family. Unfortunately, the laws of economic governance rarely capture the family’s role in economic activity. To change this, I suggest three approaches:
First, we must address the informal sector. According to World Bank statistics, 90 per cent of businesses in Kenya are SMEs, which employ 80 per cent of the workforce, but only contribute to 20 per cent of our GDP. Clearly, the bulk of subsidies occur here.
NON MONETARY CONTRIBUTIONS
Consider, for example, the farmers who supply milk to dairy cooperatives. The retail price of that milk does not reflect the actual cost of production.
It does not reflect medical insurance, pension and annual leave. Through legislation, we can require those cooperatives to provide these benefits to him, and factor them into prices.
Besides the informal sector, domestic care-work represents another area of family-to-industry subsidies. All new parents make one decision: will one parent stay home, or will they hire a nanny?
A mother who chooses diaper duty over the boardroom will be chastised by society; some feminists will castigate her for repudiating the gains of the Movement, and the boardroom will be unforgiving when she returns. Shouldn’t we reward her abilities to multi-task, mediate squabbles and negotiate with two-feet tall terrorists – all transferable skills?
In Sweden, parents enjoy up to 18 months of gender-neutral parental leave – 15 months longer than Kenyan parents. This paradigm shift acknowledges that family is not a liability; it is a critical input to industry.
But valuing care-work is not foreign. The Matrimonial Property Act recognises childcare as a non-monetary contribution affecting a spouse’s proprietary entitlement in divorce.
We just need to extend that recognition beyond marriage and support better parental leave through a blend of salaries, government subsidies, tax breaks, and incentives to the employer.
BREASTFEEDING AT WORK
Finally, we must create space for family at work. Consider, for example, the working mother who intends to exclusively breastfeed her child for six months.
While “ya mama yabamba” it is untenable to express breast milk in an unsanitary washroom or janitor’s closet! While supporting breastfeeding at the workplace comes at almost no cost to employers, the benefit to families is invaluable.
‘Nursing rooms’ where breast milk can be expressed, flexi-hours for parents with young babies, telecommuting options, and crèches are some ideas already being implemented by progressive organisations, including government departments.
Amendments to the Employment Act would secure this, as would incentives and subsidies such as tax breaks and rebates to employers.
Kenya’s new family law regime misrepresents the role of family in economic development. Correcting this misrepresentation is not welfare. It is a reflection of the real cost of business.
Since the family is undeniably a factor of production, we must re-configure our family, labour, commercial and social security law to reflect this reality.
Ms Njogu is a lecturer at Riara Law School (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Courtesy of Daily Nation.