June 28th 2017

Top Stories / National

Relief for tea growers as striking workers resume work

The agreement ensured that five tea delivery corporative societies, which had ceased operations during the nine-day strike, resumed duty.

By Derrick Kirakadkiraka@kenyafreepress.comTuesday, 12 Jul 2016 18:48 EAT

 Workers affiliated to the Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union (KPAWU) have called off their 9-day strike after accepting a return- to- work formula with Kenya Tea Growers Association (KTGA), the employers’ federation.

The agreement ensured that five tea delivery corporative societies, which had ceased operations during the nine-day strike, resumed the duty.

The outgrowers societies, which deliver tea on contractual basis to James Finlay Ltd in Kericho and Bomet, suffered losses to the tune of Sh80 million during the strike, with the most affected factories being Chomogody, Saosa, Kyomulot, Chemase and Ketumbe, which are all owned by Finlay.

The scale of the losses led to the closure of the factories.

The workers downed their tools to push for the implementation of the 30 per cent pay rise that was awarded to them by the Industrial Court in Nairobi and Kericho late last month and early this month.

The pay hike itself was a settlement of a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) dispute between the growers and the workers that was reached upon in January of 2014.

The dispute had arisen when the workers’ union demanded a 25 per cent rise in 2014 and another 25 per cent in 2015 while the growers association offered a two per cent rise for each year. The Industrial Court, in a ruling on June 21, ordered the employers to pay the workers a 15 per cent rise in 2014 and another 15 per cent rise in 2015, along with a host of other benefits.

KTGA and KPAWU reached the agreement in Nairobi to halt the nine-day industrial action by agreeing that the growers would pay the striking workers part of the 30 per cent pay rise.

Some of the outgrowers’ societies adversely affected by the strike included Chep Chep, Kap Kap, Chesete Gaa, Kok-Chaik and Ainamoi corporative societies.

On Monday, the societies pleaded with the government to come through and call to an end the stalemate between the plantation workers and the growers association that had crippled activity in the usually bustling tea factories of Kenya’s tea heaven resulting in huge losses.

While holding a peaceful demonstration in Kericho Town, the outgrowers told President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto to intervene by ensuring picking of tea resumed in James Finlay, George Williamson, Sotik Tea Highlands and Unilever Tea Kenya (UTK).

Speaking on behalf of the societies, Fintea Growers Cooperative Union Ltd chairman Eric Towett circulated a statement to the media at Kericho Moi Gardens that said 15,000 farmers from the five cooperative societies affiliated to Fintea Growers Cooperative Society could not access James Finlay’s Chomogody and Kyomulot tea factories over the eight days of the strike.

Accompanied by at least 200 members from the five societies, Towett called on the national leadership to intervene by ensuring that the CBA between the multinational tea companies and both the KTGA members and non-members is resolved in time to enable workers to resume duty by Wednesday this week.

The chairman said that the striking workers had made sure that the vans ferrying tea to the two major factories could not access the tea processing plants thus resulting in losses.

“We have been delivering at least 200,000 bags of green tea leaves to the two factories per day and since the strike began nine days ago we have incurred losses of not less than Sh80 million,” he said.

He also said that some farmers had taken bank loans to develop their farms, and a continuation of the strike would affect them irreparably. “We supply about 33 per cent of Finlay leaf requirement under a Memorandum of understanding signed between Finlay and Fintea Growers Union Ltd on behalf of individual farmers, it’s our desire to have the MOU honoured,” the statement said.

Towett also urged the striking workers to return to work immediately or risk losing their jobs to unemployed youths in Kericho and Bomet.

Tea workers and the growers have been embroiled in an endless battle due to differences in salary and working conditions negotiations. Among the benefits the industrial courts awarded to the workers in the landmark ruling in June was medical allowance totaling Sh30,000, an annual leave allowance of six per cent and a one day rest per week.

The 30 per cent pay rise would have seen the lowest tea plucker earn Sh13,050 up from Sh10,052 while the clerical level worker would earn Sh40,634, up from Sh31,257 they currently earn.

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