Counties

Tea pickers vow to sustain strike till demands are met

Tea bushes in Nandi County. FILE PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NMG
Tea bushes in Nandi County. FILE PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NMG 

Tea firms in Nandi County will continue to haemorrhage money as more than 60,000 pickers who downed their tools say they won't return to work until a court order giving them a 30 per cent pay hike is implemented.

Trade unionists representing the workers have promised to sustain the strike which began in late October until the Industrial Court ruling of 2014 is fully enforced.

The Kenya Tea Growers Association (KTGA), which represents the tea companies, last week got a prohibition order from court barring the union from enforcing the strike but officials said the directive had been overtaken by events.

“The strike will go on until tea firms honour the court order on salary increase. Only 15 per cent has been effected so far,” Kenya Agricultural and Plantation Workers’ Union (KAPWU) national organising secretary, Henry Omasire, said today.

The Labour Court in Kericho barred multinational firms in the area from engaging services of the police to evict striking workers from their houses after KAPWU moved to court to block the move.



Firemen put out fires lit by striking workers of the Finlays Tea Estate on October 30, 2017. PHOTO | ANITA CHEPKOECH | NMG
Firemen put out fires lit by striking workers of the Finlays Tea Estate on October 30, 2017. PHOTO | ANITA CHEPKOECH | NMG

“We call upon the workers to keep off the tea farms until the demands are met. They have fallen prey to unfair labour practices being championed by employers in the tea industry,” said Mr Omasire.

KAPWU’s deputy secretary general, Thomas Kipkemboi, is also accusing the employers of deliberately failing to honour the 2014 order by springing up legal road blocks.

“There is no commitment on the employers part to effect the order. They should brace for tough times since our members will not report on duty no matter the threats,” said Mr Kipkemboi.

Losses

On their part, the multinationals say they have lost Sh300 million due to the workers' strike.

KTGA said the loss in revenue is due to overgrown tea that wasn't picked and factories operating under capacity.

The industrial action also turned violent this week, with striking workers blocking roads to the farms and setting fire to portions of the firms' tea bushes.



A man assesses damage caused by by striking workers of the Finlays Tea Estate in Kericho on October 30, 2017. PHOTO | ANITA CHEPKOECH | NMG
A man assesses damage caused by by striking workers of the Finlays Tea Estate in Kericho on October 30, 2017. PHOTO | ANITA CHEPKOECH | NMG

The companies, which stayed court orders on wage increases last year, say they are afraid their wage bills will balloon if salaries are increased as demanded.

They say it would hit 54 per cent of production costs, thus subjecting them to losses.

The companies also claim that they are recovering from losses occasioned by drought and are therefore not in a position to raise wages.

Tea farmers under the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) are not affected by the industrial action that has now entered its second week.