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Decoding Construction Costs: A Guide to Estimating Labour Expenses in Kenya

Estimating labour costs accurately is paramount for contractors and project owners to ensure construction projects stay within budget and on schedule. The construction industry in Kenya plays a pivotal role, contributing 7% to the GDP and employing over 1.5 million people [1]. Despite its significance, the industry grapples with challenges such as a shortage of skilled labour, inadequate infrastructure, and limited access to financing [1].

Common Methods for Charging Labour Costs

In Kenya, labour service providers employ various methods to charge for their work in the construction sector. Here are six common methods:

  1. Time and Material:
  • Charges based on actual time spent and materials used.
  • Suitable for small, short-duration projects with a limited budget.
  • Challenges in accurately estimating total costs.
  1. Lump Sum:
  • Fixed charge for the entire project, regardless of time and materials.
  • Ideal for large projects with a well-defined scope.
  • Challenges in negotiating a fair price.
  1. Cost Plus:
  • Charges for materials plus a percentage of total cost as profit.
  • Suitable for complex projects with uncertainty.
  • Challenges in controlling costs.
  1. Unit Price:
  • Fixed price per unit of work (e.g., square meter or cubic meter).
  • Suitable for standardized projects with a clear scope.
  • Challenges in accurate total cost estimation.
  1. Target Cost:
  • Sets a target cost, sharing risk and reward with the contractor.
  • Ideal for projects with uncertainty.
  • Challenges in negotiating a fair target cost.
  1. Guaranteed Maximum Price:
  • Sets a maximum price, sharing risk and reward.
  • Suitable for complex projects.
  • Challenges in negotiating a fair maximum price.

Application Examples

  • Time and Material:
    A plumber fixing a leaking pipe charges Shs 4,000 for a four-hour job.
  • Lump Sum:
    A contractor charges Shs 50 million for constructing a school building.
  • Cost Plus:
    An electrician charges Shs 360,000 for wiring and lighting in a hotel.
  • Unit Price:
    A painter charges Shs 140,000 for painting a 500-square meter wall and 100-square meter ceiling.
  • Target Cost:
    A carpenter sets a target cost of Shs 500,000, sharing risk and reward.
  • Guaranteed Maximum Price:
    A mason sets a maximum price of Shs 100,000, sharing risk and reward.

Choosing the Right Method

Each method has its advantages and disadvantages, dependent on project goals, budget, and specifications. For instance, Time and Material suits small projects, while Lump Sum is fitting for large, well-defined projects. The choice between Cost Plus and Unit Price depends on the project’s complexity and standardization. Target Cost and Guaranteed Maximum Price are apt for uncertain and complex projects, necessitating trust and collaboration.


Accurate labour cost estimation is vital for construction project success in Kenya. By understanding the various methods employed by labour service providers, contractors and project owners can select the most suitable approach based on their unique project requirements. Nevertheless, existing methods have limitations, highlighting the need for further research and improvement in developing more accurate and reliable labour cost estimation methods within the Kenyan construction industry.