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Strike: Tea firms threaten to mechanise operations

NEWS
By | July 5th 2016
By | July 5th 2016
NEWS
A tea picker at work

Tea firms in Nandi have insisted that they will be forced to acquire tea plucking machines if no solution is found to the ongoing workers’ strike.

The strike by tea workers has seen thousands of kilogrammes of green tea leaves go unpicked as the labourers clamour for pay increase. Employment and Labour Relations Court recently issued a directive to the tea companies to increase the employees' basic pay by 30 per cent over a period of two years.

Nandi-based EMROK tea factory Chief Executive Robert Keter said if the unions continue to push for the pay increase, they will be forced to adapt to the use of plucking machines.

“The percentage awarded is too high for companies to meet which is why there is need for the union officials to go back to the drawing board and make it (pay increase) realistic,” said Keter.

Challenges

He said their company hosts over 200 workers and failure to agree will lead to reducing the workforce and adopting a mechanised system to ensure work goes on.

Keter called on the workers to make their demands realistic by basing it on the market prices, noting that the tea sector is faced with challenges and has not been steady to warrant additional costs.

“They should reconsider a 10 per cent increase so that companies can avoid shutting down and sending home over 20,000 workers.... Our interest has always been to provide employment,” he added.

The strike was sparked off by a June 20 court order by Judge Monica Mbaru of the Employment and Labour Relations Court in Nairobi, who ordered the tea companies to increase the workers’ basic pay by 30 per cent over a two-year period.

The workers staged demonstrations and engaged in running battles with the police in Nandi Hills Town centre where they warned the companies not to use tea plucking machines.

At least five multinational tea companies in Nandi County, including George Williamson, Eastern Produce and Nandi Tea Estates Limited, risk suffering long-term losses owing to the workers’ strike.

These companies, which operate more than 20 tea estates and 19 factories in the Nandi Hills Sub-County alone, employ over 350,000 people directly and indirectly. 

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