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Monday, July 24, 2006

Machines or Not? Storm in a teacup?

The numbers thrown back & forth make little sense since there is no accurate count of workers who depend on tea plucking.

Plucking tea is one of the lowest paid jobs in the formal sector but very important to the rural masses in the Central & Rift Valley regions.

COTU (thru Atwoli) has been bandying around that the introduction of te-harvesting machines could lead to a loss of 200,000 jobs!

KTGA contends they only employ 68,000 workers!

I think Atwoli is full of it but the hyperbole plays well.

What Kenyans need to reliase is that the Growers are in it for the money & the workers though low paid have great facilities (relative to the peasant tea farmer) since the "consumer watchdogs" keep an eye on the plantations.

Furthermore, Tea is no longer the beverage of choice for many. I see more Kenyans drinking sodas, caffeinated drinks & water than tea! Thus the market for tea is NOT expanding but worldwide production is soaring thus depressing the world market.

Kenyan tea is renowned for its "colour" but there are various grades of tea. Tea sold in most Western countries is blended. Unless Kenya creates a "name" e.g. Colombian Coffee, there is no point in having pricey tea that can't be sold at a premium.

James Finlay has ventured into the Green Tea market & if it can't produce quality Green Tea, it can't compete. It needs the tea harvesteing machines to ensure "freshness". This is a NEW product for Kenya.

Other countries will introduce the machines & Kenyan tea will be priced out. There will be a lot more jobs lost!

EABL had to shape up & is very efficient & growing its market.
KQ fired lots of inept employees but is now hiring while it grows exponentially.

Let the Tea Companies do their thing! I hope they can get into growth mode & provide BETTER jobs for the populace.


Kibet said...

I agree about the tea production process. To attempt to stop the cold process of industrialisation in this era of prime capitalism, will kill our tea industry.

Tho' someone should try to answer where the 68,000 jobless tea workers will go. Given that much of the land in the tea regions is held up by the tea estates, i see crime rate rising in the affected regions.

gathinga said...

This matter is either economics or politics depending on who'se looking. For govt and COTU, Its purely politics and for Finly and others is economics...

For a goverment that has taken a platform of reform and modernisation, they must have found themselves in an extremely tricky situation. Reformers like Kimunya would love to allow the companies to use latest technology...but the opposition would seize the issue and roast them; they're very good at it.

No Trade union worth its salt would sit back and watch such a large scale retrenchment take place.

These bening the circumstances, i see a very long drawn conflict.

I Wish we had somone in govt to deal with the agitation the Thatcher dealt with the print unions in UK in the 1980s. The standoff was much more complcated.

pesa tu said...

Yes, we do need to mechanise but the big issue is costs.Kenya's labour costs are high when compared to places like China and India. Add a poor infrastructure and we are done.
It's time the country stopped investing in labour intensive jobs. We are too expensive for them.

Take an example an individual earning US$ 500 a month in India/China considers himself well-paid but in Kenya thats a survival wage.

coldtusker said...

@kibet - The business of business is business. The government needs to handle the "jbs" situation.

Disallowing machines is postponing the inevitable & loss of additional jobs beyond the 68,000.

BTW, not all 68,000 jobs (assuming this is correct) will be lost coz (a)someone has to operate the machines (b) higher quality tea requires hand-picking (c) higher/cheaper prodution means greater exports thus extra "other" jobs like dockworkers, clerks, factory workers, etc.

@Gathinga - Thatcher was DECISIVE. Well, kibz is no Thatcher!

@pesa tu - Tata Tea of India bought Tetley Tea of UK thus they have land to mouth... thus they can "favour" their farms in good or bad times!

Look at Sasini's attempts to "brand" their own tea creating a market for their tea. Unilever did that years ago.

Kenyans just allowed a second window a few years ago! Coffee is "dying" coz of the lack of "origin marketing" like wine from an estate.