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Ban Tea Picking machines Atwoli urges counties

By Nikko Tanui | July 21st 2016

KERICHO, KENYA: Central Organization of Trade Unions (Cotu) Secretary-General Francis Atwoli has petitioned Members of County Assemblies (MCAs) in tea growing areas to draft and pass bills which would outlaw tea plucking machines.

"Some leaders in the previous government in cohorts with tea companies schemed to introduce tea plucking machines. But the time has come to reverse the retrogressive trade practice,"

"The machines have lowered the quality of tea. County governments through county Assemblies must ban the use of tea plucking scissors and other tea plucking machines," said Atwoli.

He made the remarks at Kericho green stadium when he addressed the striking 20,000 Unilever tea workers. He was accompanied by Governor Paul Chepkwony and senior Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union (KPAWU) leaders among others.

Cotu SG told Unilever, James Finlay, George Williamson, Sotik tea highlands among other tea companies who would reject the ban of the tea plucking machines to cancel their leaseholds and surrender the land to county governments.

"The land has it owners, it belongs to the local communities. If the multinational tea companies feel that they cannot operate in the country, they can surrender the pieces of land to the counties," said Atwoli.

He at the same time gave the management of Unilever Tea Company a 48 hours ultimatum to sign an agreement with the striking tea pluckers lest he would lobby for boycott of Unilever products.
Atwoli pointed out that Article 41 of the constitution states that every worker has a right to Collective Bargain Agreement (CBA).

"Despite the constitutional provision, Multinational tea companies have proved that they have no respect for anyone or the courts. Unilever management should therefore reach to us before the end of the week so that we instruct workers to return to work on Monday,"

"If the company would fail to respect the workers and award them the pay increase and other rights awarded by the courts, I will in November move a motion at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) for the international community to boycott Unilever products," said Atwoli amid wild cheers from the workers.

Chepkwony said his administration will support the workers and asked the Unilever Managing director Duncan Stickler to obey the court orders.

"As a child of a tea plucker, my administration will not allow a situation whereby tea pluckers are denied their rights. Unilever must obey the court orders and awarded the low cadre workers the 30 per cent pay increase for normal business tea plucking business to resume," said Atwoli.

The Cotu boss at the same time demanded the release of Bomet county Kpawu branch secretary Jared Momanyi and six other unionist who were arrested for allegedly leading the striking workers to destroy a tea plantation at Finlays Tea Company.

Kpawu counsel Mesherk Kisia vowed that the legal team would fight hard to vindicate the detained unionists.

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