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Governors oppose sacking of tea pickers as multinationals shift to machines

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A woman picks tea leaves in Nyeri. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Summary

  • The multinational tea firms are embroiled in a fresh row with county governments in tea-growing regions after the companies sacked more than 30,000 workers and replaced them with tea picking machines.
  • Governors from Nandi, Kericho, and Bomet counties have rejected the adoption of the machines saying that no environmental assessment has been done.

The multinational tea firms are embroiled in a fresh row with county governments in tea-growing regions after the companies sacked more than 30,000 workers and replaced them with tea picking machines.

Governors from Nandi, Kericho, and Bomet counties have rejected the adoption of the machines saying that no environmental assessment has been done.

The county chiefs now want the plantation owners to reinstate workers, including those sent home at the height of the Covid 19 pandemic pending environmental assessment of the machines.

Tea farms with large holdings in the three counties that are at the centre of the current standoff include Williamson Tea Kenya PLC and Eastern Produce Tea Company of Kenya.

“Governors will not remain silent when large-scale tea companies go on massive sackings. So far more than 30,000 tea workers in various companies in Rift valley have lost jobs and they should be given back their employment,” Nandi County Governor Stephen Sang said.

The governors have further called for an independent investigation by the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) on the health effects of operating tea pickers claiming that some workers have raised complaints.

Governor Sang also claimed that the machines are churning out low-quality tea to the international markets.

The plantation owners through their lobby group Kenya Tea Growers Association (KTGA) on their part say that they were forced to send some workers home due to the high operational costs and economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

“Multinational tea companies are faced with new challenges. The measures taken are intended to cut down on high operational costs such as high power bills and the cost of fire wood used in factories,” KTGA chief executive Apollo Kiarie said.

“We don’t own tree plantations, hence, we are forced to source for alternative energy and this has affected us economically and resulted in massive sackings for us to remain in the business.”