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25 Feb 2019

Brian Wasuna, Daily Nation (Kenya)

James Finlay sued in the UK for alleged failure to provide safe working conditions at Kenya's subsidiary

"Trouble brews for James Finlays over lawsuit", 22 February 2019

A law firm whose massive win in a compensation case earned British coal miners billions of pounds has now set its eyes on a multinational tea firm in Kenya. Its test case against James Finlays is bound to change how foreign companies relate to their local workers and deal with occupational hazards. Hugh James Solicitors has filed seven cases at the All-Scotland Sheriff Personal Injury Court representing past and present James Finlays (Kenya) Limited tea pickers who claim that the multinational’s failure to provide safe working conditions has affected their health...

In the Kenyan case, Elly Okongo Inganga, Lucas Onduse Omoke, Vitalis Otieno Muga, Rebecca Okenyuri Nyakondo, Joyce Mongere Ochoi, Christopher Omwambia Chuma and Getunga Masela Indinga want Sh2 million each as compensation and for James Finlays to settle their legal bills. While the Sh14 million demand may seem like a pittance for one of the world’s largest tea firms, the lawsuit, if successful, could set in motion an avalanche of claims and payouts; and not just by James Finlays, but several other consumer goods manufacturers in Kenya and beyond...

In the case filed in Scotland, the claimants argue that James Finlays had them work from 6.30am to 6pm six days a week with no lunch or tea break. They add that they had to walk at least half a kilometre carrying baskets full of tea leaves from the plantations to weighing sites. Each basket, when full of tea leaves, weighs up to 20 kilos.  Lucas Omoke, one of the claimants, says in the Scotland court papers that he was employed as a tea picker in 1992. He left in 1995 to become a bus conductor but returned in 1997, again as a picker. Mr Omoke was moved to the mechanical tea harvesting department in 2006 where machines with blades and a pipe are used to pluck tea leaves. He has since retired. The former tea picker argues that he endures severe pain in his lower back, shoulders, knees and hips. “Mr Omoke was required to carry the equipment. The machine weighed 28 kg and was carried by two men. He worked beside noisy machinery. He was not given ear protection.