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Tea workers case against James Finlay brews in Scotland as judge confirms group proceedings

By Steve Mkawale | Feb 17th 2022 | 3 min read
By Steve Mkawale | February 17th 2022

The Senate Committee on Labour and Social Welfare during a meeting with the Management of James Finlays limited and Workers union officials at James Finlay's offices in Kericho on October 27, 2021. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

A judge in Scotland has allowed current and former workers of James Finlay Tea Company to join in group proceedings filed in the United Kingdom against the company.

More than 700 employees have sued the company claiming to have suffered from musculoskeletal injuries while employed as tea pickers on tea plantations operated by the company.

The musculoskeletal system includes bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments and soft tissues.

They work together to support your body's weight and help you move.

The court further directed that those who have similar claims and were yet to join the group have a three months widow to join the group

In the remote hearing yesterday before the Scottish Court of Session (Edinburgh) Judge Lord Weir granted an order for the group action to proceed.

During the session, the Judge heard submissions made on behalf of the group by Queen’s Counsel Andrew Smith.

Mr Smith made submissions to the court regarding the appointment of a suitable Representative Party to figurehead the group of claimants and to represent the interests of the entire group.

Lord Weir thereafter allowed the appointment of retired Queen’s Counsel Colin McEachran as a Representative Party for the group of claimants suing the Company.

Lord Weir also directed that Thompsons Solicitors Scotland provide the Court with an updated group register of claimants within the next 14 days noting that after three months of advertising, no new claimants will be allowed to join the case.

Thompsons Solicitors Scotland are the Scottish agent of Ronald K Onyango Advocates LLP in Kenya acting for the group of claimants.

Lord Weir ordered advertisements on the case be placed by Thompsons Solicitors Scotland in prominent UK newspapers in the next seven days.

James Finlay Kenya Limited is a Scottish company incorporated in 1925 with a registered office in Aberdeen, Scotland.

Smith had previously advised the court at an earlier hearing that the company had a turnover of  £52m (Sh8,032,084,086) annually.

He described the working conditions as a "recipe for disaster."

He previously told the Judge: "If these practices were adopted in Scotland, it's likely they would be closed down pretty much instantaneously by health and safety."

Ronald Onyango, a Kenyan-born British lawyer and Managing Partner of Ronald K Onyango Advocates LLP acts for the tea workers.

Mr Onyango said the number of people involved in the case could rise to 1,500 if it is allowed to proceed.

"We are determined to see that justice is served to the tea workers. There is no safety net in Kenya, unfortunately, and if they have lost their job, most of them are the main breadwinners in the family and you will find that the families are left living a life of abject poverty," he said.

"We see this as the very last hope that they have of being able to salvage some parts of their dignity and the life that they ought to have lived, had they not been subjected to these injuries."

The case will be continued on a date to be advised by the Scottish Court in the next couple of months once the procedural requirements of the last hearing have been met by the parties.

The case is being supported in Kenya by a local human rights campaign group Justice and Environment Foundation in Nakuru.


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