NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 12 -Central Organisation of Trade Unions Secretary General Francis Atwoli was on Friday ordered to pay a fine of Sh 500, 000 or serve a 3-month jail term for inciting tea pickers to go on strike and defying a court order.
Atwoli who appeared before Justice Isaac Lenaola at the Milimani Law courts was also ordered to place a public apology in two local dailies within 21 days for inciting the tea pickers to destroy tea plucking machines.
The fiery union leader was found guilty of calling a strike by tea workers in violation of a court order barring him and other officials from doing so.
Atwoli and officials of the Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union called the strike in October, 2010 to oppose the introduction of tea plucking machines by multinational tea companies in Kericho, Sotik, Kisii and Nandi regions.
The court was told that Atwoli held meetings and urged tea workers to go on strike and destroy the tea plucking machines in disregard of a court ruling. Atwoli had argued that the machines would render tea workers redundant.
The Kenya Tea Growers Association filed an application in court seeking to have Atwoli and officials of the Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union committed to civil jail for dishonoring the orders issued in October, 2010.
Atwoli however, claimed that he had not been served with the court orders but only saw it in a local newspaper advertisement.
His argument was dismissed by Justice Lenaola who said he was convinced that Atwoli was in full knowledge of the order restraining him and other officials from inciting tea workers to go on strike.
Following introduction of tea plucking machines, Atwoli invited multinational tea companies to dialogue over their use in the tea estates after fears that about 80,000 tea workers would be rendered jobless.
It was estimated that about 65 percent of tea companies had reverted to use of tea plucking machines to replace thousands of tea pickers who work in the biggest tea companies in Kenya.
Atwoli argued that the new technology was a shortfall of a commitment by the government to create at least 500,000 jobs annually.