No help in sight even after Cotu writes to Uhuru

                 Anguish: Karuturi flower farm workers bemoan their situation. [PHOTO: ANTONY GITONGA]

By Abigael Sum

Naivasha, Kenya: Exchanges between the management of Karuturi Ltd and the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) have done nothing to alleviate the suffering of the workers in the flower farm.

On December 29, Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli directly appealed to President Uhuru Kenyatta to intervene and remedy the situation.

He wrote: “We write to you, to intervene and ensure the management of Karuturi flower farm are sought from wherever they are, arrested and arraigned in court for failing to pay wages to workers who have toiled for over a year without pay.”

He further informed the President the situation facing over 3,000 workers at Karuturi was serious and appalling.

Last year on August 28 and October 5, Atwoli wrote to Cabinet Secretary of Labour Kazungu Kambi asking him to arrest the management for non-payment of wages.

In the letter to the President, Atwoli complained that Kambi had not responded to the letters and had also not arrested top managers as requested.

“We are yet to receive response from the ministry nor has there been any attempt to arrest the situation despite asking him to order the arrest of farm management for failure to pay salaries and letting workers to work in appalling conditions,” wrote Atwoli.

He claimed that all workers were working without water and electricity and that the directors were not concerned.

Atwoli also charged that the farm owners were involved in directly siphoning farms proceeds and cash to overseas destinations subjecting workers and their families to further desperation and agony as the Ministry of Labour watched.

Three days later after Atwoli’s letter to the President, the chairman and Managing Director of the Karuturi Group Sai Ramakrishna Karuturi responded to the allegations.

He copied the letter to the President, High Commissioner of India, Deputy Registrar Industrial Court, Cabinet Secretary, Director of Public Prosecution and Inspector General of Police.

Karuturi called Atwoli’s allegations “false, malicious and alarmist publications against Karuturi Ltd” and demanded a written clarification of facts he had given the print media.

“The attempts to create undue public pressure and influence public officers to act unfairly and unlawfully against the company, its shareholders and officers is extremely disruptive to the reasonable efforts being undertaken to turn around the companies production and sales,” said Karuturi.

He accused Atwoli for allegedly relying on false information or conjuring unsupported allegations, which thereafter were widely publicised.

He told Atwoli that he was in breach of strict rules requiring parties to desist from discussing matters that were before court, with a view of influencing the courts decision.

Responding to each allegation, he pointed out that claims that the company has failed to settle employee’s salaries for more than six months were utter falsehood.

He, however, did not explain if the salaries had been paid or whether the company had at any time defaulted in paying wages to workers.

The Karuturi boss further told Atwoli that he made false claims that the Ministry of Labour had refused or neglected to involve itself in the industrial dispute.

He also found it disturbing that Atwoli had demanded “without any valid reason the arrest of the company’s officers.”

He also denied claims that that the company directors had irresponsibly siphoned the farms proceed to overseas destinations subjecting the farm’s workers and their families to desperation and agony.

“He claims that it is happening in open eyes of the government even though the Ministry of Labour, KRA and other agencies subject the company to audit and they can confirm the incorrectness of such callous intolerance directed against foreign investors,” said Karuturi.

He also clarified that they employ approximately 2400 employees and not 3000 as claimed by Atwoli.

He also responded to claims that the company had acted in breach of the law and that attempts by Kenya Plantation and Allied Workers Union (KPAWU) to negotiate had failed.

Extremely damaging

He said: “Nothing can be further from the truth because the company has at all times, involved workers unions in any sensitive matters that concern employees.”

The company, however, acknowledged it has problems due to various factors beyond its control, including “extremely damaging unlawful industrial actions by employees” and volatile markets.

Karuturi agreed that flower production at the farm was strained although present production is slowly returning to normal and barring extreme conditions the flower farm will be able to turn around in the near future.

He pleaded that continued publicity seeking, alleged peddling of false information and threats to harass the company by misusing various State agencies including the Ministry of Labour, the DPP and Kenya Police was upsetting business plans.

“The company hereby requests the various state agencies and honourable court to treat both parties fairly and desists from harassing its management based on undue influence,” pleaded Karuturi.