More than 400 tea pickers have been sacked from Kiptenden tea estate as the plantation introduces machines

September 15 2010

More than 400 tea pickers who were sacked last week and replaced by plucking machines on Tuesday allegedly invaded the farm in Nandi District and burned down the machines.

The workers are reported to have stormed Kiptenden tea estate which is run by Tindiret Tea Company and burnt down 12 machines kept in a store. They also burned fertilisers.

They allegedly struck in the morning and kicked out two night guards before setting the gadgets ablaze.

The company had bought 38 machines to replace the 400 tea pickers to cut operational costs.

Police probe

Police in Nandi South District, however, said no arrests had been made and that they were still investigating the incident which they are treating as arson.

The general manager of Tindiret Tea Company, Mr Tom LLyod, did not give details of the incident but asked reporters to let the police first carry out their investigations.

Last month, over 70,000 workers in large scale tea companies received a 20 per cent salary increment which is backdated to January, 2010.

The increment will be split into two phases and tea pickers and junior workers in multi-national companies will be paid a 10 per cent raise this year and the remaining 10 per cent in 2011.

The Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union (KPAWU) the Kenya Tea Growers Association and the Managing Director of the Eastern Produce Kenya Limited signed the agreement awarding unionisable workers the raise following years of negotiations.

Workers in multi-national tea companies in Kericho, Nandi, Limuru and Sotik are set to benefit.

COTU Secretary-General Francis Atwoli, the National Treasurer of KPAWU, Mr Joshua Oyuga and the Managing Director of Eastern Produce Kenya, Mr Graham Macklean, EPK Operations Director, Mr Jacob Katta, Mr Titus Kipyabu and Ms Betty Chemutai negotiated the new agreement, among other officials.

Mr Oyuga said tea workers in large scale farms had been fighting for better salaries for years and that they were happy with Mr Atwoli who held talks which went into midnight to resolve the issue of basic salaries for the tea pickers.

According to the new agreement, tea pickers would be required to pluck 863 kg per month and any excess would be paid at Sh8.03 a kilogramme, up from Sh7.67.

Tea workers used to earn Sh12,238 but would earn 14,823 this year and Sh9.28 for each kilogramme of tea picked in 2010.
The salary increment were announced by Mr Oyuga when he addressed KPWU officials in Nandi.

He said the union would not accept the use of tea plucking machines since they would lead to job losses.

Oyuga claimed factories run by the large scale tea companies in Nandi and Kericho were meant to crash and process green leaves tea picked by human beings and that machines would compromise the quality of Kenyan tea in the world market.

The officials denounced a move by tea farmers, led by their chairman, Mr Wilson Tuwei, calling for the use of tea plucking machines to lower costs of production.

Mr Tuwei said tea companies were operating at a loss because of high salaries paid to tea pickers and demanded that the pay be reduced to six shillings for every kilogramme of tea picked or that they would be forced to use machines.

A director with EPK, Mr Joseph Lagat Manchoi, says high operation costs and demands from workers union were threatening the companies earnings.

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