More than 1,000 workers at Finlays Kenya Limited will lose their jobs by the end of the year after the flower company announced plans to close its two farms in Kericho County.
Finlays yesterday announced that it would stop operations at Chemirei and Tarakwet flower farms by December 25.
Earlier in the year, Finlays Managing Director Stephen Scott had indicated that operations at the farms would end in December 2020.
But due to what Mr Scott has described as severe economic challenges in the past 18 months, the company management has decided to bring forward the closure date.
“The flower industry has been facing severe challenges in the last 18 months due to an oversupply in the European Market and decreasing demand. The prices have remained very low,” said Scott.
He added that coupled with other challenges, including the weakening of the shilling, extreme weather conditions and high labour costs, the directors of James Finlays (Kenya) Limited had decided to close business in the two 70-acre farms.
Kenya Plantations and Agricultural Workers Union (KPAWU) officials, however, said trouble started in 2014 when the union demanded implementation of the 2014-2015 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), which awarded workers a 30 per cent salary increment.
"As a union, we feel this is a ploy by the company to try and short-change workers who were to get a 30 per cent salary increment that had stalled since 2014," said Dickson Sang, the union's Kericho branch chairman.
"Finlays want an easy way out of the increment deal."
Mr Sang opined that if it was about the challenges the management had raised in its notice, then they should have closed all the three flower farms they have in the county.
"Why leave out Lemitet flower farm?" Sang wondered.
In April 26, last year, Finlays sounded an alarm that it could hardly keep the two farms operational, and planned to shut them by December 2020.
Last October 19, Scott wrote to workers informing them of a decision to move the date closer: “The final closure date will now be on December 25, after which operations on Chemirei and Tarakwet will stop."
He announced that all employees would be made redundant in accordance with labour laws and existing Collective Bargain Agreements.
"Junior and senior management who are leaving the business will be communicated to on a one-on-one basis,” said Scott.
Yesterday, anxiety among workers was evident. Security guards detained this writer when he went to seek interviews with the workers over the new development.
Detained for hours
He was detained for over two hours at the security office together with the workers' union boss Dickson Sang.
Joseph Adongo, one of the workers who has been at the company for 10 years, said the decision to move the shutdown date to December 25 was a big blow to many workers.
"There is a lot of confusion right now. I don't even know what to do. In 2016, I took a loan of over Sh58,000 to educate my children. All my terminal dues will go towards the loan repayment," Mr Adongo said.