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Fear of job losses as counties clamour to take tea factory lands

Workers at a tea estate in Kericho.
Workers at a tea estate in Kericho. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The clamour by some county governments to take over multinational tea factory lands on expiry of leases is causing uncertainty among workers and management of the companies.

Some firms have even scaled down operations, with workers ending up the victims. Introduction of tea plucking machines only made matters worse for labourers.

Leading the pack are some governors from tea-growing counties.

The Kenya Plantation and Agriculture Workers Union officials have expressed fears of more job losses due to uncertainty over the expiry of land leases and wrangles over the tea plucking machines.

“The tea companies and the county administrators should hold crisis meetings to resolve the contentious land leases that threaten to impact negatively on operations in the sub-sector,” said Mr Eliakim Ochieng, the union’s Nandi chapter secretary.

“The fears of job insecurity have demoralised workers who depend on the tea sector for their economic livelihood. The matter needs to be amicably resolved by relevant parties,” said Mr Joshua Oyuga, the union's western Kenya secretary.

Land leases for some of the tea companies have expired and the county governments want the expansive farms handed over to them.

Nandi Governor Stephen Sang and his Kericho counterpart Paul Chepkwony are rooting for establishment of a public company to manage multinational tea companies whose leases have expired for the benefit of the local communities.

“Apart from the compensation issue, the multinational tea companies whose leases have been terminated need to be handed over to the county for proper management,” said Mr Sang.

The two county bosses took the issue further with Prof Chepkwony initiating a process to sue the British government for atrocities committed against the Kipsigis community including eviction when the farms were being established. On his part, Governor Sang has held talks with British Deputy High Commissioner Susie Kitchen over the leases following similar talks with Prof Chepkwony.

“It is unfortunate that the displaced families continue to live in deplorable conditions after they were evicted from their ancestral land and subjected to torture by the British colonialists in the process of establishing the multinational tea companies,” said Mr Sang.

Sh108 million has been allocated to sue the British government and seek compensation in London Court over land injustices.

But according to Ms Kitchen, the Britain was committed to solving the dispute without straining relationship between the two countries as she urged the firms to continue supporting local communities.

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