KENYA – Unilever Tea Kenya (UTK), a subsidiary of the British consumer goods giant Unilever Plc has announced a Voluntary Early Retirement scheme to cut on the number of staff at the Kericho-based tea plantations, Business Daily has reported.

Unilever East Africa Corporate Affairs Director, Joseph Sunday the planned reorganisation was part of routine business exercise used by companies across Kenya and was in no way linked to a massive layoff.

According to him, the voluntary retirement primarily targets employees close to the retirement age and does not have a specific target number of employees it intends to take up the offer.

He concluded by saying all companies UTK included, must continuously refresh working practice to continue the innovation and this will ensure secure employment for the next generation of Kenyan tea workers.

This came after a worker’s union claimed that the tea producer had embarked on a massive layoffs targeting 11,000 employs out of 16,000 at the firm.

“(The union) strongly condemns Unilever Tea Kenya for engaging in corporate greed and jeopardising over 11,000 unionised workers’ jobs through a separation exercise that only targets unionised employees,” said Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union assistant secretary-general Meshack Khisa in a statement.

The tea workers’ union came out strongly opposing the retrenchment plan, accusing the company of breaching labour laws.

Voluntary separation

In a statement the firm clarified that there was no target number of employees earmarked for the layoff and that some employees were informed of their eligibility to take part in a VER.

It further said the initiative was primarily aimed at employees close to retirement, who are offered the choice to apply for early retirement with an attractive benefits package.

“Unilever Tea Kenya (UTK) would like to clarify that reports suggesting a Voluntary Early Retirement (VER) scheme is part of plans to lay off 11,000 out of the 16,000 workers employed on the plantation are entirely incorrect,” said Sunday.

A February 27 memo from Unilever Tea human resources manager Mary Wanyonyi read in part: “This has been aimed at ensuring we have an organisation that is agile, fit to compete and efficient in our quest to respond to rapidly changing business needs,

“It is in this regard that Unilever Tea Kenya is offering voluntary separation to non-management employees to be conducted strictly on voluntary basis.”