Union members suspended for striking to prevent the use of tea picking machines were re-instated with back pay last week by the Kenyan courts.
Last November 33 workers protested when the James Finlay and Sotik Tea companies instituted machine harvesting. The protesters incited thousands of others to participate in the two-week strike that cost growers several million shillings. Tea pluckers from Tindiret Tea Company burnt down about 15 tea machines protesting that the machines had taken up their jobs.
According to The Nation in Nairobi, the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) secretary Francis Atwoli and Kenya Plantation and Agriculture Workers Union (KPAWU) national treasurer Joshua Oyuga, who had called for the strike, had petitioned President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga to ban the importation of the machines, saying the quality of tea would be compromised.
Mr. Oyuga said that tea estates which used to produce some 10,000 kilogrammes of tea per day were now plucking about 2,000 kilogrammes because of drought.
A severe drought has cut production by as much as 80 percent in some parts of Kenya. In Nandi District, 18,000 tea workers were sent home and 14 tea factories under multi-national tea firms in the region are now threatened with being shut down due shortage of green leaf tea.
Kenya's Kapchorwa and Kaimosi gardens operate 40 tea machines, the Tindiret company owns 45 machines and Boit tea company has 30 tea picking machines in operation.
Source: The Nation, Nairobi, Kenya