A row has erupted between Nandi County government and multi-national companies over plans to introduce taxes on tea plucking machines to protect jobs for thousands of workers in the industry.
Some companies are opposed to the levies terming them punitive and aimed at locking them out of business due to escalating production costs.
Company managers on Tuesday petitioned the county government to suspend a proposed law and instead push for mechanisation, noting that utilisation of casual tea pluckers was expensive, making it difficult to sustain operations.
“Plucking machines have been introduced in most tea producing countries and Kenya is not an exception especially in this era of mechanised agriculture to cut down on production costs,” said a senior manager in Nandi-hills who requested not to be named since is not authorised to speak to the media.
“The machines consume less fuel and each is managed by one person who can do work equivalent to 20 tea pickers, cutting down on the cost of production by a greater margin,” argued a director at one of the companies.
Most multinationals pay tea pickers Sh15.50 per kilogramme of green leaves.
The workers operating tea machines are paid Sh4 per kilo compared to Sh15.50 for the tea pickers.
The County Assembly last week adopted a motion to introduce new levies on introduction of tea plucking by multinational companies.
The levies, according to Kapchorwa MCA John Kebenei and his Kabwareng counterpart Jackson Swadi, will protect workers from facing the sack as a result of the tea plucking machines.
“The Kenya Bureau of Standards and Ministry of Health should investigate the impact of tea plucking machines on safety of workers,” said Mr Kebenei while decrying massive sacking of workers following introduction of the mechanized system.
“Apart from the possible health hazards, the tea plucking machines compromise the quality of tea in international market denying the country much required foreign exchange,” added Mr Swadi.
About 5,000 casual workers in tea companies in the county have been sacked following the introduction of tea plucking machines.
According to the former director with the Eastern Produce tea Company of Kenya (EPCK) Joseph Lagat the industry will experience massive job losses on tea plucking machines.
Multinationals in Nandi and Kericho counties lost about Sh300 million last year as a result of the strike by the workers.