Tea pickers' demands should not be allowed to kill this vital sector
SEE ALSO :No party for tea farmers in bonus payoutThat includes the many small-scale farmers who would have struggled to stay in business matching the higher rates. Unfortunately, the sector is not out of the woods yet. Negotiations on the 2016-2017 CBA are currently underway and there is a risk of going back to the protracted court process. Umbrella union The KPAWU, the country’s biggest umbrella union for tea pickers, is on record as having publicly opposed the court decision and vowing to continue pushing for higher wages in the sector. Such a move would be considered a repudiation of the agreement and if successful, would trigger financial losses for teacompanies already struggling to pay the 2014-2015 settlement, which although lower than union demands, was still very generous when compared to equivalent sectors. Those making the case for higher figures in the 2016-2017 CBA have little appetite for a collective agreement. Their strategy is to secure a full implementation of an across-the-board change in employees’ terms and conditions at all costs. The outcome of this has been unnecessary bureaucracy and slowness when responding to the requirements and needs of the industry that sells to global markets, competing with players who do not face such pressure. Should this collapse the industry, the negative impact will be severe and will be felt for a long time. There is urgent need for the Government to do more to address the volatility in the tea industry in line with the Big Four development agenda. Multi-nationals account for slightly over 40 per cent of Kenya’s teaoutput, almost exclusively employ the growing cadre of world-class trained agri-scientists in the industry, and have heavily invested in research and development. The huge, existing route-to-market infrastructure, port logistics, warehousing, brokers and tea tasters owe their existence to these multi-nationals.
SEE ALSO :20 schools on Knec cheating watch listThese figures are relevant in pointing out why there is need for stability in the tea sector if we are to recoup any losses and solidify gains. Unfortunately, only listening to one side whenever there is a dispute in the sector and implementation of the workers’ demands would easily devour all available resources, leading to a total shut-down. In the past, such partisan moves have disproportionately benefited tea pickers. This is why it is necessary for the Government to step in and stop the downward spiral threatening to undo all the gains witnessed in the sector in recent times. Mr Odongo comments on social issues; [email protected]