Feature: Kenyan office workers take up side hustles amid COVID-19 job uncertainty

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NAIROBI, July 10 (Xinhua) — As many firms in Kenya increasingly sack their employees due to the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, more office workers are turning to side hustles to boost their income amid the growing job uncertainty.

Several companies in different sectors in the east African nation, from hospitality to media, manufacturing and health, have sent their workers home citing the difficult times.

Thousands of workers have lost their jobs or are put on indefinite unpaid leave since the pandemic started in March.

According to a survey by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics released in May, nine out of 10 Kenyan workers are unsure of keeping their jobs following the disruptions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The survey further shows nearly four percent of workers either expected to stay out of work for up to six months or lose their jobs altogether.

And as the COVID-19 infections spread in the east African nation, the number of Kenyan workers worried about keeping their jobs and thus losing income is rising.

To cushion themselves from the long-running uncertainty, many Kenyan office workers have started small businesses.

While some are selling fruits, others cereals, cooked food, hand-made items like sweaters, others are farming.

The food sector has attracted many office workers after successfully fending off the effects of the pandemic thanks to its classification as one of the essential services.

“One of the lessons I have picked during the COVID-19 pandemic is that you should never rely fully on your job for survival because it can end anytime,” said media worker Caroline Achieng, who sells hand-knitted sweaters and scarves to her colleagues.

Before the outbreak of the pandemic, she had not thought of utilizing the embroidery skill she has had for years since her job looked assured.

“When I was sent on a 30 months compulsory leave, it dawned on me that I could soon find myself jobless. I used that time to knit several items and started to sell some to my neighbors and when I resumed work, my colleagues are now my clients,” she said.

She has received many orders for both adult and children sweaters, scarves and leg warmers, among other hand-knitted items that go for between five U.S. dollars and 20 dollars, with Achieng keen on turning the passion into a long-term business.

For Martin Mwaniki, an insurance agent, a notice of redundancy issued by his employer a month ago due to the pandemic, has pushed him into greenhouse farming, which has become his fallback plan in case he is sacked.

“It cost me about 1,800 dollars to install the greenhouse and plant capsicums inside and they are doing well. I am looking forward to my harvest in about a month’s time which I will sell to a company that bulks and distributes the produce among others in residential estates,” he said.

Mwaniki has now taken agribusiness seriously even as his fingers remain crossed that he does not lose his job due to the pandemic.

“Of all the sectors in Kenya, the food business has remained resilient during the pandemic thus I believe one cannot go wrong if they invest in it. This is where I am putting my money to cushion myself,” he said.

Ernest Manuyo, a lecturer at Pioneer Institute in Nairobi, noted that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic could spur entrepreneurship as uncertainty over jobs looms.

“In the long-term, this may have a positive effect on creating jobs if these businesses survive and grow. These are a silver lining amid the gloom.” Manuyo said. Enditem

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