Tea growers protest at layoffs and low wages

Tea growers protest at layoffs and low wages

May 28, 2009 – As tea continues to attract better prices at the Mombasa auction, a trade union and multinational tea companies in the country are embroiled in a row over low wages and massive sackings of employees.

The Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union (KPAWU) wants multinational tea companies to suspend the introduction of tea plucking and pruning machines saying the technology was impacting negatively on the tea industry.

The union’s national treasurer, Mr Joshua Oyuga, said more than 10,000 employees in the tea industry had been sacked following the introduction of the machines by some tea companies two years ago.

Mr Oyuga claims the tea companies have consequently reduced payment for harvested green leaf from Sh7.67 to Sh3.50 a kilogramme, thus contravening Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with the union.

The Kenyan tea has been fetching between $2.45 (Sh193.06) and $2.60 (Sh204.88) a kilogramme at the Mombasa auction and the union wants the profit ploughed back to boost the welfare of tea workers.

“It amounts to exploitation of the tea companies to pay Sh 3.50 per kilogramme for green leaf while it earns over Sh200 for the product at the auction market,” says Mr Oyuga.

The union has threatened to move to court to compel tea companies to pay wages to its employees in recognition of the CBA.

But some tea companies have attributed the massive sacking of workers to shortage of green leaf caused by the prolonged drought.

“We have been unable to maintain a big workforce due to poor green tea leaf production in the past few months following prolonged drought,” said a senior manage in one of the tea farms in Nandi Hills.

But Mr Oyuga maintains that some tea companies have resorted to hiring employees on contract after sacking them to cut costs and increase profits.

“The tea companies are applying manipulative tactics by sacking their employees and later re-employing them on contract basis, denying them the benefits they are entitled to under CBA provisions,” said Mr Oyuga.

He says employees on contract do not enjoy such benefits such as housing, and medical allowances….

Article by Barnabas Bii

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