Government officials are urging striking tea workers to resume the harvest.
Talks between the Kenya Plantation and Agriculture Workers Union (KPAWU) and the Kenya Tea Growers’ Association (KTGA) are stalled, preventing 60,000 unionized workers from resuming work, mainly at large plantations.
The strike, which Kenya’s courts have since ruled illegal, began Oct. 17. Workers in Kericho, Sotik, Limuru and Nandi counties are covered by the collective bargaining agreements in dispute.
“The court ordered the workers to return to work, and to forward the dispute to the commissioner of labor for conciliation,” senior deputy labor commissioner Isaiah Kirigua told The Nation.
Workers are demanding a 30 percent salary increase, first approved in 2014 after review by Kenya’s Industrial Court.
Henry Omasire, KPAWU national organizing secretary said, “The strike will go until tea firms honor the court order on salary increment. We call upon the workers to keep off the tea farms until the demands are met. They have fallen prey to unfair labor practices being championed by employers in the tea industry.”
Representatives of the growers’ association say that if the increase is approved, wages will drive up production costs, with labor accounting for 54 percent.
During the standoff, large volumes of mature tea leaves remain unpicked, leading to an estimated $3.8 million (Sh400 million) in losses so far. The idled tea gardens supply Unilever Tea Kenya, Ltd., James Finlay Kenya, Ltd. and Eastern Produce Kenya, Ltd.
KPAWU Secretary General Francis Atwoli said, “KTGA should stop its exploitative tendencies within the tea sector and imagine that through the courts it can intimidate employees.”
About 600,000 smallholders affiliated with the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) are not affected by the strike. KTDA growers earned $405 million (Sh42) in 2017, down Sh2 billion from 2016, a record year for tea production. In 2017, growers received 76 percent of the gross sales of Sh78 billion for 233 million kilos of tea. Approximately 1 million Kenyans are directly employed in the tea industry.
Source: The Nation.