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Governor Erick Mutai now seeks to mediate row over tea picking machines

Workers picking tea using a machine at a farm in Kericho. [Wilberforce Okwiri,Standard]

Kericho Governor Erick Mutai has dropped his hardline stance against the use of machines for picking tea, saying he will instead engage with the multinational companies for a win-win solution to the dispute.

Workers in the tea sector and their unions have been fighting the use of machine since they were introduced in Kenya over 10 years ago.

They claim more than 10,000 tea pickers have lost their jobs since the introduction of machines.

Tea companies, including James Finlay, introduced the machine to cut costs with reports a single machine can do the work of 20 people.

As a result, tea picking was a hot issue during campaigns ahead of the August 9 elections with some politicians saying they would push for fresh negotiations so workers don't lose their jobs.

Dr Mutai is among those who had said he would push for the outlawing of the machines to save jobs.

A court dismissed one of the cases filed against the use of the machines saying the tea companies are free to adopt new technologies in their operations.

Mutai said his administration will instead seek a win-win solution over mechanisation of tea harvesting.

Kericho Governor Dr Erick Mutai. [File, Standard]

"We want to work with the tea firms for a win-win situation where the companies will not lose their profit margins while at the same time Kericho residents benefit from the estates through job opportunities," Mutai said.

Mutai made the remarks during an event where Finlay Community Trust awarded Sh32 million in scholarships to 30 students from Kericho and Bomet counties.

The scholarships were given under the Swire Masters Scholarship plan where two students are admitted every year to universities of their choice in the United Kingdom.

At the same time, 28 other students benefited from the 2022 Undergraduate Scholarship, funded by the same Trust. The beneficiaries are from the 11 constituencies in Kericho and Bomet counties.

While commending Finlays for its series of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes, the governor said he will be inviting all multinational tea firms in the county, including CVC Capital Partners (Formally Unilever Tea), to round table talks on the matter.

"We want to know the CSR programmes of the other multinational companies in the county. We must discuss the issue as we build a robust community together," Mutai said.

Finlays Managing Director Simeon Hutchinson said the company's strategy and partnerships with different stakeholders are important in ensuring projects it has invested in are relevant to the community.

"Since 2010, the Trust has invested over Sh251 million in education, public health, energy, and water infrastructure projects," he said.