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Striking blow to national economy

By | October 19th 2010

By Vitalis Kimutai

The strike by tea workers could have far reaching implications on the national economy.

Kenya exports over 94 percent of the tea produced, 40 per cent of which is produced by large-scale tea estates such as Unilever and James Finlay.

A plantation worker picks tea by hand, which is preferred by Central Organisation of Trade Unions and its affiliates. [PHOTO: VITALIS KIMUTAI/STANDARD]

The tea industry is one of the major foreign exchange earners for the country, and Kenyan tea has effectively been competing with those from other countries for a share on the international market. Small-scale tea growers across the country who supply their crops to the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) managed factories, however, are not be affected by the strike.

But some outgrowers who supply their produce to the affected multinationals will also reap huge dividends should the crisis not be resolved sooner.

Nelson Orgut, the James Finlays Director of Operations denied that workers were being retrenched and others employed in their place.

"There has not been any retrenchment of workers as we are leaving national attrition, that is retirement, resignations and death, to reduce the number of workers," Orgut said.

He declined to discuss the issue of tea plucking machines, but hastened to add that issues that had earlier been raised earlier by workers’ representatives had been dealt with. A total of 28 workers were laid off by the multinational in the 2006 strike, after they attempted to disrupt operations in various estates.

Attempts to introduce the machines, is not new according to the union sources; similar moves were made by Michimikuru Tea Estates in Meru between 1981 and 1982.

It led to the laying off some 800 workers, leading to Government intervention, which saw the machines withdrawn and the reinstatement of the workers.

The tea-plucking machine has sharp rotating blades that cut leaves at high speed while being operated by two to three workers.

It operates like a lawn mower and is driven by the mechanics through the tea bushes and uses fuel.

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