Tea workers in Rift Valley downed their tools on Monday, protesting over use of tea plucking machines that have rendered thousands jobless.
Multinational tea companies in Kericho, Sotik, Kisii and Nandi were most affected as workers went on strike compelling their employers to withdraw plucking machines from the tea estates.
The workers’ union, the Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union (KPAWU), said about 10,000 workers had been replaced by the machines in companies like Unilever Tea, James Finlay, George Williamson, Sotik Tea.
The tea firms said the strike was illegal following the Friday’s High Court order.
“This matter is before the court and therefore you will understand that it is not appropriate that we comment,” an official at James Finlay Ltd company told the Business Daily.
But KPAWU denied knowledge of the court ruling as most workers kept off tea plantations by Monday afternoon.
“I have not been served with the court order. But we are waiting for dialogue from the Labour Ministry,’ said Mr Francis Atwoli, Central Organisation of Trade Unions secretary- general.
The tea workers’ union accused the multinationals of going against an agreement it entered with KTGA to have the machines introduced only at three per cent for experimental basis.
Critics say use of machines will affect the quality of tea in the world market.
But tea company officials say the machines are economical and had made companies make profits after cutting down operations cost and was pondering retrenching thousands of tea workers.
“The future of tea plucking is in the new machines. Orthodox green teas are required for processing within one hour of plucking. There is dwindling productivity because of a general lack of labour,” said a Kericho tea company official.
Mr Atwoli told workers not to resume work until union leaders themselves called the strike off.
“I am the only one who can call off the strike and until you get the directive from me, continue with the strike unless the companies suspend use of machines,” said Mr Atwoli.
However, operations in some tea companies in Nandi went on as usual as workers steered clear of the strike.