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Economy

Tea workers suffer setback as court backs sackings



Workers pick tea in Nandi. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Workers pick tea in Nandi. FILE PHOTO | NMG  

Some 336 employees of tea companies including Unilever Tea Kenya are unlucky after the Court of Appeal overturned a decision reinstating them to work.

The employees from companies including James Finlay, Unilever and Kipkebe Ltd were sacked in October 2017 following a strike the Kenya Plantations and Agricultural Workers Union had called over the 2016/17 collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

The union accused the companies of unilaterally refusing to make any counter-offer towards reviewing the terms and conditions of service of its members.

After stopping the intended strike, the court ordered all parties to appear before the Labour Commissioner for negotiations on the CBA issue.

By a letter dated October 5, 2017, the Labour Commissioner informed the parties to appear before him for a meeting six days later and asked them to present their respective proposals to facilitate an amicable settlement, in good time before the date of the meeting.

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The union, however, in a letter dated October 11, 2017, gave a strike notice and instructed its members to withdraw labour from midnight of October 17, on the ground that the reconciliation meeting did not resolve the dispute.

The union argued that the employers had taken a hardline stance and were unwilling to negotiate.

The union later complained that the employees had been victimised through dismissal and sought a clarification from the court on what the judge meant with the phrase “without victimisation of any nature”.

After hearing the application, Justice Monica Mbaru ordered the reinstatement of the sacked employees, pending the determination of the case.

The tea firms then moved to the Court of Appeal faulting the judge of giving the order without fully hearing the dispute. They also argued that there was n formal application. In the judgment, Justices Erastus Githinji, Daniel Musing and Otieno Odek ruled in favour of the firms.

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