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Mastermind workers in go-slow over missed pay

Mr Wilfred Murungi, Mastermind Tobacco founder
Mr Wilfred Murungi, Mastermind Tobacco founder. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Employees of Mastermind Tobacco, which is owned by tycoon Wilfred Murungi are on a go-slow in protest over delayed salaries, the Business Daily has learnt.

The move is set to hurt production at Kenya’s second largest cigarettes maker.

The company, known for its Supermatch brand, declined to comment on the standoff when reached for comment on Friday last week.

According to people familiar with the matter, however, senior management in the company that has about 1,000 staff are among those hardest hit by the cash crunch.

The salary delays, the people said, began in December last year.

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The last salaries that were paid fully were for January this year and as such the company owes dues from February, the sources said.

Mastermind founder Wilfred Murungi had not responded to the Business Daily queries on the cause of the delayed wages by the time of going to press. The staff had been advised to request for salary advance for February in April this year, sources said. Some began receiving a third of their March salaries last week on Thursday.

“First partial salary was for February for junior staff only. Managers were left out so their salary arrears are for three months,” said a person familiar with situation but who sought anonymity for fear of victimisation.

Mastermind which imports more than half of its raw material (semi-processed tobacco leaf) from Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo has in the past been embroiled in scores of court battles against its employees and the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA).

Early this year, Mastermind and KRA signed a deal with the taxman that will see it put its prime assets on forced sale to settle Sh2.9 billion tax arrears.

Mastermind has also been the subject of buyout talks.

Early this year, it was reported to have entered into negotiations that could see it sell a majority stake to Philip Morris International Inc, the world’s largest tobacco company by sales.

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