Atwoli calls for crisis meeting after minor's death at James Finlay

A tea plucking machine in operation at a tea estate in Kericho county. A boy had his head decapitated by a tea plucking machine at Cheptabes tea estate owned by the multinational tea company James Finlay Plc in Bomet county on January 16, 2023.

Photo credit: Vitalis Kimutai | Nation Media Group

The Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union (KPAWU) has convened a crisis meeting to discuss safety of it's members and their families working in the multinational tea estates following the horrific death of a young boy.

The victim, said to have been under nine years, had his head decapitated on Monday by a mechanized tea plucking machine at Cheptabes tea estate in Bomet, owned by James Finlay tea company. 

It is alleged that the boy was playing hide and seek in the tea bushes some metres from the workers' quarters when the accident occurred. A one-man operated mechanized tea plucking machine is said to have chopped off the head of the victim and dragged it for several metres before a supervisor noticed that the machine was blood stained, with a cloth tied to the sharp rotating blades. 

Investigations revealed that the accident had resulted in the horrific death of the boy, who was a pupil at a primary school in the estate, with his parents being employees at the tea plantation. 

"Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU) Secretary General Francis Atwoli, who is also the KPAWU boss has called a meeting in Nakuru on Wednesday (today) to discuss the way forward on ensuring workers and their families operates in a safe environment" Mr Dickson Sang the KPAWU Kericho branch executive secretary revealed. 

Mr Sang said an audit on deployment of mechanization in the multinational tea estates will be discussed in the backdrop of other related work place accidents that has maimed workers or caused death. 

James Finlay on Tuesday confirmed the incident, adding that the company was cooperating with the authorities on the ongoing Investigations. 

"We are offering our full support to the family, the wider community and to our colleagues who witnessed the incident. We are also working closely with the authorities" James Finlay said in a statement. 

It added: "The safety of everyone connected with our business is always our number one priority. In accordance with our health and safety procedures, we immediately reviewed operations of self-propelled harvesters in our estate and are urgently investigating to understand how this incident occurred"  

A number of accidents involving the self propelled harvesters and the hand held machines are said to have happened in the multinational tea estates over the years but are not reported. 

Multinational tea companies have been involved in a spat with local leaders and trade unions over mechanization in the industry that has resulted in massive layoffs. 

Mr Atwoli is on record stating that more than 200,000 direct and indirect jobs had been lost in the industry as a result of mechanization. 

Governors - Dr Erick Mutai (Kericho) and Stephen Sang (Nandi) have formed Task Forces to look into the effects of mechanization on the economy, address the issue of land rates and the land lease that is shrouded in secrecy, and provide the way forward. 

Dr Mutai and Mr Sang have taken a hard-line stance on the issues and demands the land rates should be revised upwards. 

The Governors also want land lease terms to be raised to between Sh5,000 to Sh10,000 a year to reflect the prevailing market rates. 

However , Bomet Governor Hillary Barchok has broken ranks with his colleagues and called for negotiations on the matter. 

Professor Barchok says the multinationals have provided job opportunities to locals and were a revenue stream for the counties.