Parliament has opened investigations into the sacking of 2,050 workers by a multinational tea company following a petition filed by Nandi County residents.
The petition, filed through Nandi Hills MP Alfred Keter, wants the National Assembly’s Committee on Labour and Social Welfare to compel the management of Eastern Produce Kenya (EPK) tea estate to compensate and reinstate workers for unlawful dismissal.
House Speaker Justin Muturi directed the committee, chaired by Bura MP Ali Wario, to scrutinise the petitioners’ prayers and report back within 60 days.
“Your humble petitioners pray that the National Assembly, through the departmental Committee on Labour and Social Welfare, investigates the circumstances under which employees were dismissed with a view to addressing the petitioners’ plight,” Mr Keter said in a petition signed by 20 former EPK workers.
Mr Keter said the tea estate owns 12 of the 20 factories in Nandi County. The factories are Kibabet, Kapsumbeiwa, Kipkoimet, Kepchomo, Chemomi, Savani, Sitoi, Kaboswa, Kipkeibon, Siret, Kaprachoge and Kibwari.
“The company provides employment to over 40,000 workers drawn from Nandi Hills constituency and other parts of the country,” Mr Keter said. He said the local economy relies on EPK, the largest multi-national in the Rift Valley.
He said EPK sacked the workers two years ago after a ruling of the Employment and Labour Relations Court that compelled all tea industries to raise salaries by 30 per cent.
EPK employees moved to court in 2016 to have their salaries reviewed based on advice from the Central Organisation of Trade Unions.
“I the undersigned, on behalf of dismissed and blacklisted employees of Eastern Produce Kenya… draw the attention of the House that the EPK allegedly disregarded the decision of the Employment and Labour Relations Court ruling forcing the employees to exercise their constitutional right of seeking justice through demonstrations,” Mr Keter said.
The petitioners claimed that EPK did not honour the court’s verdict leading to employees hold demonstrations to express their dissatisfaction. “The dismissal of the said employees was based on a blanket judgment, hence it was irregular and breached constitutional provisions on the Bill of Rights,” Mr Keter said in the petition.
The sacked workers, in the petition, claimed the dismissal was unlawful.
“The dismissal was erroneous and against the rules of natural justice since employees were not accorded an opportunity to be heard contrary to Article 50 of the Constitution,” Mr Keter said.
He argued that it was aimed at instilling fear in workers in order to deny them their right to fair trial. “Blacklisting dismissed workers is a punishment which will lead to emergence and escalation of social crimes within the region,” he said.