Speaking exclusively to Famous South Rift in Nairobi, the KTGA CEO Apollo Kairii said, both the tea growing companies and workers need each other for existence and so there is need to be considerate while making demands.
While expressing how they have been mindful to workers, with gradual increment of wages and improving working conditions, Kiarii urged the Union to look at the straining environment facing the companies that include, National economic strains, high cost of production, high cost of transport and erosive tea selling prices at the auctions.
Despite all the strains, we have been willing to engage all stakeholders for negotiations on how best we can come up with lasting solutions.
” No staff has ever been forced to retire, Finlay Flowers decided in 2018 to gradually shut down its Kericho operations due to toxic business environment and business unsustainability issues. We don’t want to see companies shut down because this is a threat to economic growth” Apollo said
Kiarii says, they have only been firm against arbitrary wage hikes when workers make demands that are likely to make companies close but they have always been mindful of their needs.
” After the union went to court over the 2014/15 CBA, the Employment Court awarded workers 15/15 percent increment but we demonstrated to the Court of Appeal that we could not afford due to high cost of production vis-a-vis the cost of tea at the auction and it was reduced to 8/8 percent respectively and we fully implemented in March 2018″so its not true that there are 6 years of no wage increases in the Industry as alluded by the Union.
In pursuit to address 2016/2017 and 2018/2019 CBAs, we have met with the union a total of nine times since April 2018, and the gap is very narrow and a deal n the offing on the % increase while there are five other clauses yet to be deliberated on.
Apollo however, called for sobriety by the union so that both the employers and employees enjoy mutual benefits that have existed since 1931.
” We have been in existence since 1931 and we have handled over 30 CBAs with the Union. So I ask them to sober up despite the many loses employers and workers have lost over the stalemates and come to the table for negotiations instead of taking protests to streets” he said
On the alleged forceful retirement, he said, the compulsory retirement age as per the CBA is 55 while early retirement limit is 50 years and workers were advised and counselled to make a conscious decision to voluntarily consider this option with an advanced package.
” The Voluntary Early Retirement is an operational process, and workers were advised to voluntarily consider this option, nobody is forced,” he said
Mr. Kiarii further said, since plucking machines was introduced over 20 years ago, no single worker has ever lost his/her job as a result. The Union challenged their use and filed a petition in Court in 2010 and the Courts determined that enterprises are at liberty to innovate and automate in as long as the due process is followed in cases of redundancy if it arises.
” Harvesting tea using machines aims at improving quality and efficiency and has never sent anybody home. So the union shouldn’t be troubled because automation and innovation is the way to go. Our competitors from the Asian countries among them China, Japan and Agentina have been using machines for the past 80 years” he assured
He adds that the Association only affirms itself with reasons not out of malice asserting that they are determined to motivate their workers