Kenyan Tea Pickers’ compensation case paused amidst legal complexities

Photo by Sebastian Pichler on Unsplash

IN A recent ruling, appeal judges decided that employees of James Finlay Kenya Ltd cannot proceed with their damages claim in the Court of Session, Scotland’s highest civil court, for the time being. The case involved compensation claims by around 2,000 Kenyan tea pickers against their employer, one of the world’s largest tea suppliers.

Earlier, Lord Weir had allowed the action to progress against the firm, which led to Finlay’s lawyers challenging the decision, arguing that the Court of Session lacked jurisdiction, and the claims should be heard in Kenya, where the injuries occurred. Lord Weir had rejected these arguments, asserting the Scottish court’s jurisdiction.

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The Inner House of the Court of Session, Scotland’s highest civil appeal court, issued a written judgement on Tuesday, sisting proceedings, which means temporarily stopping the case. Lord Carloway, along with Lords Pentland and Lord Doherty, stated that the injuries sustained by the workers could be addressed by Kenya’s Work Injury Benefits Act (WIBA), a no-fault compensation scheme.

Lord Carloway emphasised that the Kenyan workers had the right to appeal to Kenya’s Employment and Labour Relations Court, indicating that the claims should be handled in Kenya. He explained, “The appropriate manner of proceeding is to sist these proceedings pending resolution of the claims under the WIBA including any appeals to the ELRC, in Kenya. If the court’s construction, or its understanding of the practical operation of the WIBA, turn out to be ill-founded, or if there were to be excessive delay, the court may have to revisit the question of substantial justice and consider whether the sist should be recalled. However, the court cannot determine, as matters presently stand, that the WIBA, if it operates as its terms suggest, is not capable of providing substantial justice. The concept of such justice applies to both parties and envelops the general public interest.”

Previous court hearings had revealed the challenging working conditions faced by the tea pickers. They claimed to have been required to work gruelling shifts of up to 12 hours a day, six days a week, without breaks, earning a meagre average monthly wage of £100 in 2017. Additionally, the pickers alleged that they had to harvest a minimum of 30kg (4st 10lb) of tea to receive any payment at all, highlighting the harsh circumstances they endured in their workplace.

Finlay’s managing director, Simeon Hutchinson, had expressed concerns about language barriers and potential misunderstandings due to strong Scottish accents during legal proceedings. He stated, “English is a second language probably for the majority of employees employed by JFK. Being a second language could be a challenge for these employees, particularly if there are people speaking with strong Scottish accents—there could be the risk of losing something in interpretation or misunderstandings.”

As the legal process continues, it remains crucial to ensure that the rights and voices of the workers are heard, and that justice is pursued in a manner that respects the diverse backgrounds and perspectives of all parties.

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