Act on tea workers’ woes

An investigative series by the Nation on the tea farms in Kericho calls for urgent investigation and for authorities to get to the bottom of the matter.

The series told of the serious health effects of using the tea-picking machines, which often lead to lifelong illnesses, and how the onerous and labour-intensive role of operating the machine has been driving workers to the use of drugs, including bhang. 

Already, 1,000 current and former James Finlay workers are before Scottish judge Lord Braid seeking Sh20 billion from the firm in a class action suit. 

The series also told of broken families where a spouse has had to leave the partner on suspicion and confirmation of sexual relations with superiors for favours in the tea farms, as well as the sad case of — mostly — women being forced to use their bodies to secure a job or promotion at work.

Medical plan

Both James Finlay and Ekaterra, formerly Unilever, told the Nation that they have a medical plan for their workers and that they had set up sexual harassment policies to punish sex pests and protect the workers.

But they need to go further.

Already, a parliamentary committee investigating sexual harassment in tea farms want estates to terminate contracts for outsourcing labour and for women to be hired in top supervisory roles to curb the vice. 

The companies also need to be compelled to establish clear reporting lines to avoid cases of an ‘all-powerful’ supervisor who has dozens of workers under him working in tea farms but who are not directly employed — and therefore not as protected —by the multinationals.

The police should also fast-track their investigations to identify perpetrators of sexual harassment and those found culpable brought to book.

There should also be an urgent assessment of the health effects of the tea-picking machines and urgent mitigating measures to be put in place. The time for action is now.