Tea growers: Wage hike will kill sector Kenya

Kenya’s tea sector will go into critical condition if the Government does not offer it more support, the Kenya Tea Growers Association (KTGA) has said.

KTGA, which is locked in a wage dispute with union workers, said if a court ruling that increases pickers’ pay by 30 per cent is allowed to stand, tea growing will become too expensive for farmers.

KTGA CEO Apollo Kiarie said the increment would affect labour costs to the detriment of smallholder farmers, adding that the association plans to appeal the ruling that was made in June.

“The award of a 54 per cent increment is not justifiable at all. The 30 per cent being talked about is on basic wages alone, it does not include other benefits,” Mr Kiarie said, adding that the ruling did not factor in the costs of growing tea.

Tea pickers are paid between Sh10 and Sh18 per kilogramme of green leaf. Farmers who then deliver this tea to the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) get paid an initial Sh14 per kilogramme, Kiarie said.

“This means smallholder farmers will have to look for alternative sources of income to meet labour costs.”

KTGA had offered a wage increment of 5 per cent, while workers wanted 50 per cent. The courts awarded a 30 per cent increment to be implemented over two years as a compromise.

The ongoing strike by tea workers agitating for this court ruling to be implemented has so far affected 20 tea estates and 11 tea processing factories that are members of KTGA.

“As a result of the strike, approximately 10.4 million kilogrammes of green leaf were lost, which translates to about 2.3 million kilogrammes of finished tea — a revenue loss of Sh575 million,” Kiarie said.

The tea industry earned the economy Sh125.25 billion last year, a 23 per cent increase from Sh101 billion in 2014.