Some 910 workers of multinational tea company James Finlay will lose their jobs in the next six months following the sale of its Lemotit flower farm in Kipkelion East, Kericho County.
James Finlay announced last weekend that it had sold Lemotit to Black Tulip Group, which has major tentacles in roses and cut flowers in four counties.
James Finlay Kenya managing director Simeon Hutchinson said the sale will allow the company to concentrate on its core business, namely, growing and processing of coffee and tea.
Lemotit, which produces cut flowers and roses for markets in the United Kingdom and Europe, is the only such company in Kericho and Bomet counties.
Lemotit farm covers 467.17 hectares (1,027.774 acres) but only 132 acres are under flowers, with 910 staff on its payroll, says a dispatch from James Finlay.
“The full takeover is expected to be completed in the next six months following a go-ahead given by the regulatory bodies,” Mr Hutchinson said in the statement.
When Black Tulip Group fully takes over, he said, current employees will be declared redundant and terminated.
The affected staff
James Finlay will pay the relevant dues to the affected staff, Mr Hutchinson said.
Black Tulip Group CEO Mohan Choudhery said the takeover of Lemotit is part of its wider expansion strategy with an eye for high-quality assets.
The company has deep roots in the flower business and owns Golden Tulip Farms Ltd and Laurel Investment Ltd, both in Ol Kalou, Tulaga Flowers Ltd in Naivasha, Batian Flowers Ltd in Timau, Sunfloritech in Naivasha, and Eco Roses Ltd (Utee, Tropi and Limuru/Eco Salgaa).
The two companies are expected to engage trade unions to discuss the fate of workers.
Dickson Sang, the Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union Kericho branch secretary, said on Monday that the union had been informed about the planned change of ownership.
“We have about 1,000 workers who are members of the union at Lemotit flower farm and we want to know what will happen to their jobs when Black Tulip Group takes over. This is a big number of employees whose jobs are at risk,” he said.
No prior notice
He expressed hope that Black Tulip will retain the staff even after James Finlay pays them.
James Finlay earlier closed down two flower farms —Chemire and Tarakwet — in Kericho and laid off workers, with trade unions claiming no prior notices had been issued.
The company was also accused at the time of failing to give the affected employees their benefits, claims Mr Hutchinson dismissed as false.
“We shut down operations in the two farms as we were unable to compete with other players in our traditional markets in Europe due to high labour cost making it impossible for the firm to break even in the business,” he said.
At the time, workers were hired under a collective bargaining agreement tied to those in the tea sector instead of what prevails in the flower sector.
James Finlay’s core business is in tea and coffee growing and processing in Africa and other parts of the world.
It produces 30 million kilograms of made tea annually, with one million kilograms being orthodox tea. Some 60 percent of its estates in Kenya are in Bomet and 40 percent in Kericho.
It has 10,300 hectares under tea in nine estates, operates four tea factories and employs 6,000 workers.
It used to have more than 10,000 workers but mechanisation in the tea sector has gradually pushed out 4,000.
The company, established in 1750, has operated in the South Rift since 1924 and has a presence in several countries on five continents, including the UK, US, China, Chile, Malawi, Sri Lanka, Argentina and Indonesia.