About 50,000 workers of multinational tea companies in Kericho, Sotik, Kisii and Nandi are threatening to go on strike to compel their employers to withdraw tea-plucking machines from the estates.
The workers, under the Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers’ Union (KPAWU), threatened to cripple operations in the companies starting Monday, if their demands are not met.
KPAWU assistant Secretary General, Issa Wafula, said they had issued a strike notice to Kenya Tea Growers Association, Unilever Tea, James Finlay, George Williamson, Sotik Tea, and Eastern Produce.
“We have tried to reason with them, but they do not want to listen to us. Thus we have no option but to go on strike,” said Wafula.
He demanded the tea plucking machines be removed from the estates because they were compromising employment. “They are operating 24 hours, thus reducing the work done by the workers, and hence reducing their pay,” he said.
He alleged that some companies were also asking their employees to retire early so the machines can be used full-scale. Addressing a press conference in Nakuru, Wafula claimed there had been an agreement between the companies, the Union and the then Minister for Labour, the late Newton Kulundu, to introduce three per cent tea plucking machines for trials.
However, most companies had gone against the agreement, and were using the machines to pluck about 80 per cent of the tea, putting the livelihood of about 100,000 people in jeopardy.
“This is an abuse of the Government policy of job creation, and we are asking for State intervention,” he said.
KPAWU deputy secretary general, Thomas Kipkemboi, said the use of the machines was also compromising the quality of the tea, as there was no one to sort out the leaves.
“The machine picks everything including insects and chameleons and there is no one to sort out the tea,” he said.
He said they have mobilised branch secretaries to ensure that no employee reports to work.