EPZ firm workers strike over new payroll system enters day two


Hela Intimates general manager Thusitha Rathnayaka during an interview at the Export Processing Zone (EPZ) in Athi River on December 17, 2020. PHOTO | LUCY WANJIRU | NMG

A garment manufacturer at the Export Processing Zone Authority (Epza) in Athi River that operates 24 hours closed on Wednesday after workers strike over a new payroll system entered the second day. 

Hela Intimate workers have accused the company of transferring them illegally to a new employer and unlawfully sacking some colleagues.

The garment company is a local subsidiary of Sri Lankan-incorporated Hela Clothing which manufacturers lingerie for European and United States markets.

The over 5,000 workers say the EPZ firm is planning an ownership change and has made changes to their contracts without informing them.

"I have worked for this company for seven years. I am now being forced to be enrolled in a new payroll under a new company brand. This is a gimmick to deny us our service pay as stipulated in law," said Mr Shadrach Oguto, a Hela company employee.

The staff also claim that the company has been sacking employees who question certain decisions made by the management.

According to the workers, those targeted were due for service benefits after serving the company for years. 

"The management is thriving on workers intimidation and coercion in disregard of the labour laws. Workers’ rights have been infringed in totality with workers being subjected to long hours of unpaid overtime," said Ms Nancy Akoth, an employee at the Athi River-based firm.

Tailors and Textiles union Athi River branch secretary Mr James Cheptrin confirmed Wednesday that they have received complaints from the workers.

"We are not opposed to the company ownership change but we are demanding workers to get their dues. We have already taken the matter to court,” Mr Cheptrin said.

“We ask our members to remain firm as we seek a long-term solution."

In an internal memo signed by an anonymous official seen by Business Daily, the firm dismissed claims of ownership urged the workers to be calm as they work to resolve the stalemate. 

"We hereby urge all employees of Hela Intimates EPZ ltd to remain calm and not to be involved in any kind of acts damaging the company properties. The company is in the process of taking legal action against the 3rd parties who are trying to spread rumours … and trying to interrupt the operations," the statement read.

The protests come barely a month after more than 2,000 workers at the Global Apparel company held a peaceful protest after they were denied entry into the company.

The workers had been fired and asked to reapply afresh for their positions.