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Strike by tea firm workers flops amid confusion

BUSIA
By | October 19th 2010

By Peter Mutai and Titus Too

Kericho County

The planned strike by tea workers in the South Rift region over use of tea-plucking machines failed to take off Monday.

The High Court in Nairobi stopped the strike called by Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union (KPAWU) to push for the removal of the machines. There was confusion in the tea sector where more than 70,000 unionisable employees had prepared to paralyse activities.

Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli toured the region on a hired chopper to push for the strike despite the court orders.

He urged members to boycott work until their demand of withdrawal of tea picking and pruning machines is met.

Atwoli, who was accompanied by KPAWU National Treasurer Joshua Oyuga, said the union had no binding agreement with the multinational tea companies.

He called on President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga to intervene.

"According to the recommendations of International Labour Organisation (ILO) of 2007, the introduction of mechanisation in the tea industry should be agreed upon by the worker’s union and tea companies," Atwoli said. Speaking at the Kericho Green Stadium, Atwoli said he would table the matter, including video tapped operationalised mechanisation process to the ILO offices in Geneva.

Atwoli, who is also the Secretary-General of KPAWU announced he would meet representatives of the affected tea companies today.

Adhered to orders

Unilever Kenya Tea Corporate Affairs Director Francis Kaptich, James Finlay’s Operations Director Nelson Orgut and Kenya Tea Growers Association (KTGA) chairman Charles Kipngok said workers adhered to the orders issued by the court and went about their business as normal.

Last Thursday Unilever Kenya Tea Company and other several large scale tea plantations under the umbrella of KTGA obtained a court injunction stopping the strike after the union served them with notices calling on its members to down tools.

High Court Judge Lady Justice Jeane Gacheche issued the orders declaring the planned strike illegal.

A spot check by The Standard team in some of the tea estates within Kericho County showed tea pickers reported for work as usual, with Regular and Administration police bosses patrolling the estates in police vehicles.

Justice Gacheche ordered the applicants to serve KPAWU with the suit papers and set the case to be heard inter parties on October 26.

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