3,700 former James Finlay workers suffer setback in UK court

James Finlay

Workers pick tea in a section of James Finlay Kenya’s tea farm in Kericho County in this file photo. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • James Finlay, which has roots in Aberdeen in Scotland, was founded in 1750 as a Glasgow cotton trader.
  • The company has more than 28,000 acres of tea plantation in the South Rift region and employs 6,600 workers.

An appeal court in Scotland in the United Kingdom has handed a setback to 3,700 former workers of James Finlay Tea Kenya (JFTK) seeking compensation for work related injuries. 

A three judge bench referred the class action suit to be heard in Kenya before being escalated to the UK for directions by the court. 

The workers are seeking compensation for injuries suffered while working at the James Finlays company's estates in Kericho and Bomet counties. 

Appeal Court Judges - Lord Carloway, Lord Pentland and Lord Doherty - in their judgment said hearing of the appeal should be stayed until the petitioners demonstrated that the matter has not satisfactorily been dealt with under the Work Injury Benefit Act (WIBA) 2007, and by the Employment and Labour Relations Court. 

"The appropriate manner of proceeding is to sit this proceedings pending resolution of the claims under WIBA including any appeals to the ELRC in Kenya," the judges stated in their written ruling. 

"If the court's jurisdiction , or its understanding of the practical operation of the WIBA turn out to be ill-founded, or if the WIBA claims were not determined in accordance with the scheme, or if there were to be excessive delay, the court may have to revisit the question of substantial justice. The concept of such justice applies to both parties and envelopes the general public interest," the court stated. 

But Solicitor Patrick McGuire appearing for the petitioners said his team was considering filing an appeal against the ruling by the court on the matter. 

It was a big win, albeit temporarily for James Finlay who was represented by an advocate Lord Davidson of Glen Clova KC. 

James Finlay, which has roots in Aberdeen in Scotland, was founded in 1750 as a Glasgow cotton trader is now part of part of the Swire Group, with its produce – tea and coffee - stocked by leading outlets in the UK including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Starbucks, the Co-op and Bettys &Taylors Group. 

The company grows coffee and tea in Kenya, China, Sri Lanka and Argentina with over 28,000 acres of tea plantation in the South Rift region and employs 6,600 workers from the previous 10,000 a few years ago. 

Early in the year, Lord Weir, allowed the case to proceed for hearing, but the company filed an appeal in the superior court seeking to have the matter heard in Kenya and not the UK, claiming it did not meet Scotland's rules on group litigations. 

In the lawsuit, the former workers claim to have been given pain killers by the company that operates in the South Rift Valley region in Kenya with the largest chunk of its tea plantation administratively falling under Bomet County with part of it in the neighbouring Kericho county. 

“The claim adequately identify issues arising from common working practices allegedly giving rise to musculoskeletal injuries and the content of (James Finlay’s) duty of care…which not only give rise at least to prima facie case, but which also sufficiently similar to justify the granting of permission,” stated Lord Weir stated in March this year. 

The petitioners claim they were made to carry 30 kilograms of the green leaves at time, several times per day on a rough terrain that is hilly and sloppy with the region receiving high rainfall all year round. 

In court documents, they stated that the poor working environmental conditions and the load carried led to prolonged bending, tripping, twisting and falling in what affected their spines.