Tea pickers at work. Tea pickers in Kenya are on strike pressing for the implementation of a 30 per cent pay rise ordered by the Industrial Court.
By EVANS KARIUKI
A stakeholders meeting to resolve the ongoing strike by workers in the sector will be held next week, the Cabinet Secretary for East African Community, Labour and Social Protection, Ms Phillis Kandie, has said.
Ms Kandie said the Ministry is reaching out to the parties with a view of convening a stakeholders meeting for consultations early next week although there was an ongoing process in court.
“The ministry wishes to thank all the tea workers who have resumed work and urge patience as the matter is being resolved,” the CS said in a statement.
Ms Kandie said that the Ministry was aware that the matter is before the courts. “However, there are ongoing consultations between the parties involved towards a possible solution,” she added.
Factories facing imminent closure
The strike by tea workers is driving the industry to its knees with 16 factories facing imminent closure.
At least 50,000 tea-pickers stare at joblessness should the factories grind to a halt over a row between them and farm owners.
The pickers have defied a directive to return to work and are pressing for the implementation of a 30 per cent pay rise ordered by the Industrial Court last week.
Cabinet Secretary for East African Community, Labour and Social Protection, Ms Phillis Kandie.
They also want farmers to shelve plans of introducing tea-picking machines.
Police officers were at tea factories in different parts of the country on Monday when reports emerged that some workers wanted to burn them down.
Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union national organising secretary Joshua Oyuga appealed for calm and requested the pickers to return to work as a solution was being sought.
He said the union would not allow the use of machines “because they will render thousands jobless”.
However, small-scale farmers say the machines would lower costs by up to 75 per cent.
They argue that out of the Sh22 per kilogramme of tea sold, Sh15 goes to the worker while Sh3 covers transport.
“When you factor in fertiliser and pesticides, this leaves the farmer with almost nothing,” Mr David Sum, a farmer with a two-acre piece in Nandi Hills said.
Company bosses continued counting losses on Wednesday as most tea factories remained closed.
Sireet Tea Company directors Wilson Tuwei, Joseph Lagat and Paul Tionyi said workers should obey court directives.
Cabinet Secretary for Labour and East African Community Affairs Phyllis Kandie admires a gift presented to her by Iranian Ambassador to Kenya Dr. Hadi Farajvand(left) during a meeting at her NSSF building office today.
They said the 30 per cent increment would make many people abandon tea farming.
“Farmers continue to operate at a loss because of high production costs. Dialogue will resolve the issue,” Mr Lagat said.
He added that after paying workers, farmers remained with just two shillings per kilogramme.
“Unless measures are taken to ensure the 16 per cent VAT is done away with, the tea industry will continue to suffer,” he said.
Kipkimba Marketing chairman John Kebenei and Mr Philemon Sitienei, the chairman of Chebarus Co-operative society, said their 3,800 members would close shop if the court order was implemented.
Nandi Hills OCPD Paul Macharia led his juniors in blocking hundreds of tea workers from holding protest marches in the town when traders expressed fear of chaos and looting.
Workers from Nandi, Kapchorwa, Tinderet and Kibware companies threatened to uproot hectares of newly planted tea and burn down pruned shrubs if their demands were not met.
Tension remained high on Wednesday as small-scale farmers held a separate meeting and resolved The farmers said they would pay every tea worker Sh275 per day and not Sh600 the union leaders were insisting.
The county has about 48,000 small-scale farmers who sell their produce to multinationals and factories managed by Kenya Tea Development Agency.
They argued that technology was taking over all sectors of the economy and tea should not be an exception.