By Wahome Thuku
In these times of judicial reforms and vigilance on hate speech, it’s important to consult a lawyer before opening your mouth in public. That is the hard lesson outspoken Cotu secretary general Francis Atwoli has learned.
In 2010, a dispute arose between tea growing companies in Rift Valley and their employees over decision to introduce tea-plucking machines on farms.
On October 11, that year, Kenya Plantation and Agriculture Workers Union (KPAWU) led by their secretary general Atwoli issued a strike notice to Kenya Tea Growers Association and their members to force them shelve the move.
Atwoli doubles up as Cotu boss. Other officials of KPAWU are Joshua Oyuga, Henry Omasire, Meshack Khisa, Joshua Owuor and David Begi. On October 14, 2010, the tea growers association filed a petition at the High Court arguing that they had a right to mechanise their operations and use plucking machines without consulting the union.
They argued the intended strike notice was an attempt to infringe on their constitutional rights and asked the court to declare the notice unlawful and to order it be withdrawn.
On the same day, the High Court issued an injunction restraining the union, its agents, members or representatives from causing, effecting, inciting or calling for a strike pending hearing and determination of the petition.
The following day, the order was served to worker’s union’s deputy secretary general Thomas Kipkemboi but he refused to acknowledge or receive it. The association and Unilever Tea then informed their workers of the injunction.
On October 18, 2010, Atwoli and Oyuga addressed meetings at Sotik Highlands Primary School grounds, Kapchorua, Tinderet and Kericho Green Stadium.
The officials flew from one venue to the other using a helicopter. During the meetings, Atwoli asked workers to proceed with the strike until he instructed them otherwise.
On October 21, 2010, the association went back to court, this time seeking to have Atwoli and union officials cited for contempt of court and committed to civil jail. High Court Judge Isaac Lenaola heard the application.