Multinational tea companies who replaced thousands of tea pickers with machines to cut down on high operational costs have suffered a blow after they were slapped with taxes.
Companies in Nandi County are set to pay heavy taxes on operation of tea plucking machines, following the approval of a bill by the county assembly to protect the labour market.
The assembly on Thursday adopted a motion to introduce new levies on companies using the machines.
The levies, according to Kapchorwa MCA John Kebenei and his Kabwareng counterpart Jackson Swadi, will protect tea workers from being sacked as a result of the machines.
“The Kenya Bureau of Standards and Ministry of Health should probe the effects of tea plucking machines on the safety of workers,” Mr Kebenei said while decrying mass sacking of workers following introduction of mechanised tea picking.
Mr Swadi said: “Apart from the possible health hazards, the tea plucking machines compromise the quality of tea in the international market, denying the country foreign exchange.”
Kenya Plantation and Agriculture Workers Union Nandi secretary Eliakim Ochieng supported introduction of the taxes, arguing that the move will protect workers from unnecessary sackings.
Most multinational tea companies in the county have sacked thousands of workers leading to protracted strikes and legal battles.
Companies in Nandi and Kericho counties suffered losses running into millions of shillings due to the strikes.
The companies pay tea pickers Sh15.5 per kilogramme of green leaf and the machines cut down on labour costs.
The workers operating tea machines are paid Sh4 per kilogramme.
“Tea machines consume little fuel and are managed by one person who can do work for more than 20 tea pickers, cutting down on the cost of production by a huge margin,” a director at one of the tea companies said.