Union leader fined
The TUC is backing a global union appeal to help pay a fine and other legal costs imposed on Kenyan union leader Francis Atwoli for backing his members on strike. The Going to Work website provides the chance to make individual donations through Pay-Pal and we want to hand over an initial donation at the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) General Council meeting in Jordan that Francis will be attending at the very end of October.
Brother Atwoli (as he is universally called) was fined 500,000 Kenyan Shillings, plus legal costs, for refusing to call off a strike by tea workers against job losses that happened two years ago. Francis is General Secretary of the tea workers' union, the Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union (KPAWU). He is also General Secretary of COTU, the Kenyan TUC, and a worker member of the ILO Governing Body.
Back in 2010, the Kenya Tea Growers Association (KTGA) decided to introduce Tea Plucking Machines in the sector without negotiation. This move would have seen over 100,000 tea pluckers thrown out of work, and was in total contravention of the existing Collective Bargaining Agreement with KPAWU. Other firms in the sector - like Sotik Tea Company, James Finlay and Sotik Highlands - have mechanised through agreements with the union that protect the livelihood of the workers involved, but the KTGA refused to engage with the and pushed ahead regardless.
This left the union with no option but to call a strike. The union gave the employers twenty one days notice of the strike (way above the mandatory seven days) so that negotiations could begin by the employers waited until the notice period was over and the strike began before rushing to court for orders stopping a strike that had already commenced. According to the Kenyan Industrial Court Act, all matters related to industrial disputes should be referred to the Industrial Court. However, on this occasion, the KTGA chose to pursue the matter through the High Court of Kenya.
When Francis was summoned by the Court, he appeared, but failed to appear for later hearings because he was in Geneva attending the ILO Governing Body and Conference, resulting in the Judge issuing an arrest warrant and contempt of court proceedings. On 12 October, two years and two days after the strike began, Francis was fined 500,000 Shillings and taken to the cells until the union paid up.
The strike itself was a victory for the union. After just two days, the employers agreed to shelve the introduction of mechanisation. This was despite confining the striking workers on the tea plantations by locking the gates to keep the union's officials out: the union simply hired a helicopter and flew union leaders over the fences and into the plantations to meet their members!
The Kenyan trade union movement has paid the fine, although it will now also need to find the legal costs associated with the case. But this hits the union movement in one of the world's poorest countries hard, and will restrict their activities. There is some evidence that this is what the employers intended all along.
So the global union family wants to show practical solidarity with the Kenyan unions who took legitimate industrial action in defence of jobs, and with their leader who stood up for them. We want to help pay the union's costs to demonstrate that an injury to one is an injury to all, and to demonstrate that we will not be intimidated by rich and powerful employers.
Briefing document (700 words) issued 25 Oct 2012
This page http://www.tuc.org.uk/international/tuc-21569-f0.cfm
printed 20 May 2013 at 01:16 hrs by 184.108.40.206