Politics and policy
Atwoli faces court action over comments on tea workers’ strike
Posted Thursday, August 2 2012 at 21:18
Kenya’s umbrella trade unions’ boss Francis Atwoli risks jail over his utterances on a court order stopping a strike by tea workers.
Justice Isaac Lenaola Thursday found the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) secretary-general guilty of contempt of court and issued summons for him to appear in court on September 25 for sentencing.
The Constitutional Court judge said Mr Atwoli disobeyed court orders by calling for industrial action by tea workers in Kericho after the court had restrained him and other officials from doing so.
“Once he disobeyed the order, then he broke the barrier of illegality with all its consequences,” ruled justice Lenaola.
Justice Lenaola said evidence tabled before him showed that Mr Atwoli had uttered words whose import confirmed that not only was he aware and had knowledge of the order, but also challenged it as having been issued without jurisdiction.
“He may indeed be brave but when his actions amount to contempt of court, the whip of the law will be meted out,” said the judge.
Kenya Tea Growers Association moved to court accusing Mr Atwoli and five officials of the Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union (KPAWU) Mr Joshua Oyuga, Mr Henry Omasire, Mr Meshack Khisa, Mr Joshua Owuor and Mr David Begi of contempt.
They are alleged to have called the strike on October 18, 2010 to protest the introduction of tea plucking machines by multinational tea companies in Kericho, Sotik, Kisii and Nandi. KTGA had informed the court that the unrest caused a loss of Sh7 million.
Mr Atwoli and the workers union were accused of failing to comply with orders issued on October 14, 2010 by Lady Justice Jeanne Gacheche stopping the tea workers in Kericho from participating in the illegal strike.
But Justice Lenaola said the union officials would not be cited for contempt.
Mr Atwoli was said to have held meetings in Sotik, Kapchorua, Tinderet and Kericho Green Stadium warning the workers against resuming duty. He however, denied inciting the workers to strike while opposing the introduction of tea-picking machines.
KPAWU had separately sued the KTGA, Unilever Tea Ltd and Eastern Produce Limited at the Industrial Court seeking an injunction restraining the companies from dismissing the striking employees.
KTGA executive committee member Mr Simeon Hutchinson says in a sworn statement that the union moved to the Industrial Court with the full knowledge of Justice Gacheche’s orders.
The union argued that the right procedure was followed in calling the strike but the companies disagreed saying the move was misconceived.