12 tea factories in Nandi County shut as workers’ strike bites

A worker at Nandi Tea Estate Limited in Nandi Hills plucks tea leaves on June 10, 2016. 12 tea factories in Nandi County have been shut down as the week-long strike over the implementation salary increments continues to bite. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • The workers are demanding the implementation of a 30 per cent salary increase awarded a week ago by the industrial court.
  • At least 50,000 tea pickers face job losses over the impasse between the workers and owners of tea farms.
  • The current strike has seen mature tea go to waste with anti-riot police engaging the workers in running battles for most of last week.
  • While the 12 factories remain closed, three are still operational.

Twelve tea factories in Nandi County have been shut down as the week-long strike over the implementation salary increments continues to bite, with farmers saying they are losing approximately Sh300 million weekly.

The workers are demanding the implementation of a 30 per cent salary increase awarded a week ago by the industrial court.

On the other hand, farmers and owners of tea plantations are reluctant to implement the court order arguing that it would push them out of business.

At least 50,000 tea pickers face job losses over the impasse between the workers and owners of tea farms.

The workers are also against the introduction of tea-plucking machines, a move that is aimed at reducing costs.

The small-scale farmers argue that the machines would lower their costs by 75 per cent.

They argue that out of the Sh22 per kilogramme of tea sold, Sh15 goes to the worker and Sh3 covers for transport.

“When you factor in fertilizer and pesticides, this leaves the farmer with absolutely nothing,” Mr David Sum, a farmer who has a two-acre tea farm in Nandi Hills, told the Nation last week.

TEA GOING TO WASTE

The current strike has seen mature tea go to waste with anti-riot police engaging the workers in running battles for most of last week.

On Friday, police were forced to lob teargas canisters at the protesting workers to disperse them after they flocked Nandi Hills Town in large numbers.

Attempts by some of them to storm tea factories were thwarted by the officers.

The more than 10,000 tea producers have demanded the arrest of the top leaders of the Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union (KPAWU), whom they claim were out to bring down the tea industry in Kenya.

The farmers say the court ruling, which directed the companies and farmers to pay the 30 per cent salary increase, was untenable and would paralyse the tea industry.

Farmers who supply tea to the Siret Tea Company, claim they are losing Sh60 million per day from the tea which goes to waste.

HIRE NEW WORKERS

The chairman of the Siret Tea Outgrowers Company Wilson Tuwei now says the farmers would be forced to hire new workers from Monday to pluck tea as those under the KPAWU had declined to resume duty.

“Over 10,000 small scale tea growers from Siret have been pushed to the wall due to the unrest in the tea industry and have suffered huge losses. Unless the situation improves, we will have to hire new tea pickers,” Mr Tuwei said.

The farmers have also demanded the opening of the factories which had been shut, saying mature tea was going to waste.

While the 12 factories remain closed, three are still operational.

These are Siret Tea, DL-Koisagat and Nandi Tea factories.

Siret Tea is associated with former president Daniel arap Moi while DL-Koisagat is owned by businessman Dr David Lagat and Nandi Tea by the Sameer Group of Companies which is headed by businessman Mr Naushad Merali.

On Friday, police dispersed striking workers who threatened to storm the three factories.

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