Mechanisation has not led to job loss in tea sector, says official

The lobby said its statistics indicate that even with tea plucking mechanisation, less than 10 per cent of the labour force has been shed in the plantation sector over the last 10 years. Chief executive Apollo Kiarii disputed statements by unions that a single tea plucking machine replaces at least 600 workers, saying not a single person has been retrenched or made redundant by large-scale producers on account of mechanisation. One machine, he explained, is handled by four well-trained employees and cannot pluck anything close to the 300 acres of tea a day as claimed by workers’ unions.

Mechanisation has not led to job loss in tea sector, says official

Workers use a tea picking machine at a farm in Kericho. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Kenya Tea Growers Association (KTGA) says natural attrition including death, retirement, resignation and termination are the main reason for reduction in the number of workers. The lobby said its statistics indicate that even with tea plucking mechanisation, less than 10 per cent of the labour force has been shed in the plantation sector over the last 10 years. Chief executive Apollo Kiarii disputed statements by unions that a single tea plucking machine replaces at least 600 workers, saying not a single person has been retrenched or made redundant by large-scale producers on account of mechanisation. “This is alarmist and opportunistic. There is no data or records to support it, it is meant to create alarm and despondency,” he said.

One machine, he explained, is handled by four well-trained employees and cannot pluck anything close to the 300 acres of tea a day as claimed by workers’ unions. Mr Kiarii said depending on the crop and season, the machine harvests between 150 and 300kgs of green leaf daily. The workers share proceeds from the harvest equally and end up earning just more than a hand plucker. One machine does the work of 12 pluckers, according to the KTGA. A machine plucks 1.1 acres per day and consumes a litre of petrol. The four operators take home Sh660 each. “Mechanisation of tea harvesting will result in a smaller but better paid workforce and the creation of new jobs that did not exist before including suppliers of the machines and the operations and maintenance crew,” he said. ALSO READ: Purple tea yet to colour my life, says producer

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