Multi-national tea companies in the South Rift have been criticised following a wave of labour unrests in the tea growing region.
Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli also told the tea companies to implement the court order awarding the workers a 30 per cent pay increase and not choose what percentage to give them.
“The court ruled on the matter and it cannot be that the management of the companies choose what to award,” he said yesterday in Kericho.
The strikes by over 20,000 tea workers have crippled not only the region’s economy but also that of the country, which depends on the sector as a foreign income earner.
For weeks, Finlays, George Williamson, Sotik Highlands, Unilever Tea, among other multi-national tea companies are facing turbulent times after the Employment and Labour Relations Court gave thousands of tea workers a 30 per cent pay rise.
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The Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union (KPAWU) won the court battle on June 11, following a contested Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).
This means low cadre workers who earn Sh10,005 could expect to take home an additional Sh3,000. The highest paid worker at the clerical level will now earn Sh40,634, up from Sh31,257.
The court sitting in Nairobi ruled that the amount be backdated to January 2014, the date the parties began negotiations for the CBA.
But in response to the court ruling, Kenya Tea Growers Association (KTGA) Chief Executive Officer Apollo Kiarii said the tea industry could not afford the pay increase. Unilever too, through its managing director Duncan Stickler, said immediately after the ruling that the salary award was not sustainable.
“We had hoped that the judgement would have resolved the Collective Bargain Agreement. Unfortunately, the court outcome does not yet provide a solution that is both good for the employees and affordable by the company,” he said.
The workers then downed their tools and trekked to Unilever headquarters in Brooke trading centre to picket and register their displeasure with the employer.
Atwoli gave the company an ultimatum to sign an agreement with the striking workers by Monday.
He said the Constitution gives workers a right to a CBA and asked the company to sign a return-to-work formula and end the strike.
“Despite the constitutional provision, multi-national tea companies have proved that they have no respect for anyone or the courts. If the company fails to respect the workers and award them the pay increase and other rights awarded by the courts, I will move a motion at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) for the boycott of Unilever products,” said Atwoli.
Sotik Highlands Tea Kenya Company Limited in Nyamira County was ordered by the Labour Court in Kericho to pay 252 former employees who were summarily dismissed in May 2012.
Justice Marete Njagi directed the Labour Commissioner to compute the salaries and terminal benefits and forward to the court a report within 21 days of the payments.
“The court also awards the workers one month’s salary as compensation for their wrongful dismissal. Nonetheless, they must vacate the company houses within seven days from the date of judgement,” said Justice Njagi. Leaders from the region have accused the multinational companies of high handedness and called for dialogue to resolve the industrial unrests.
Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto said the tea companies should treat the workers with respect.
The decision by the tea companies to arrest and sue the workers’ officials following the strike has irked the local leaders who have threatened to take legal action against the firms.
“It is very absurd that the tea companies are ignoring the tea workers’ demands and instead being highhanded on the workers. What the workers are doing is within the constitution and should be respected,” Ruto said.
He said the tea companies should respect the court ruling awarding workers a pay rise to stop the unrest.
“The companies should respect the rule of law and give the workers the court award. It is not good to push around the workers as if they do not have rights,” the governor said.