THOUSANDS SACKED

Flowers farms seek Sh10bn Covid-19 tax break

Study by Dutch NGO says thousands of women workers hardest hit by pandemic layoffs

In Summary

•The layoffs, salary cuts, and unpaid leaves were carried out in violation of labour laws – with neither notice nor consultation, Dutch study says.

• The industry lobby Kenya Flower Council says at least 100,000 of the total 150,000 workers have been sent home. 

A worker from the Maridadi flower farm dumps roses ready for expordue to lack of market. The farm is dumping more than 230,000 roses daily.
DUMPED: A worker from the Maridadi flower farm dumps roses ready for expordue to lack of market. The farm is dumping more than 230,000 roses daily.
Image: GEORGE MURAGE

Flower farms have sacked thousands of workers and are seeking a Sh10 billion tax refund to help them survive the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The Agricultural Employers Association said Sh10 billion is the total amount owed the Kenya Revenue Authority by farms, accumulated over the years.

The farms have sacked or laid off more than half of their workers after many countries imposed lockdowns, cutting off export markets because of the coronavirus.

“Employers have been forced to send workers home on unpaid leave. In extreme cases, contracts will have to be terminated,” association chief executive Wesley Siele said.

The industry lobby Kenya Flower Council said at least 100,000 of the total 150,000 workers have been sent home. 

The farm devastation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic is captured in a study by Hivos, a Dutch non-profit development organisation that helps improve working conditions on the farms. 

The study carried out last month shows women workers are the hardest hit.

"The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted women workers in the horticulture sector socially, economically and psychologically - with the effect spiralling to their homes," the study reads.

The study is titled 'Impact of Covid-19 on Women Workers in the Horticulture Sector in Kenya'.

It warns that further downsizing is imminent should the pandemic persist.

The lay-offs and salary cuts to workers are illegal, Hivos says.

 

"The layoffs, salary cuts, and unpaid leaves were effected in contravention of labour laws – with neither notice nor consultation," the study says.

Women represent 60 to 70 per cent of all flower workers.

"The waning job security agonises thousands of women workers and subjects them to untold anxiety and mental anguish," it says.

Deputy Labour commissioner Hellen Apiyo said the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection is leading negotiations with workers through the Central Organization of Trade Unions and employers, represented by the Federation of Kenya Employers.

"The situation is dire. Many employers are not making revenue and it is difficult for them to pay salaries. We are in a state where some laws may not apply,” the study quotes Apiyo as saying.

The 2019 Economic Survey by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics says cut flowers earned Sh113 billion in foreign exchange in 2018.

The researchers interviewed 71 women workers from 12 farms in Nairobi and its environs, Rift Valley and Mt Kenya regions.

Hivos has been running the [email protected] Campaign in East Africa to improve conditions of women workers in horticulture since 2013. 

The study proposes expansion of the government’s cash transfer programme and other safety nets to workers in precarious employment as in the horticulture sector.

It also calls for economic rescue and stimulus packages at national and county levels to support small enterprises.

Hivos urges mass sensitisation of workers regarding Covid-19 and supply of  PPEs and other anti-virus supplies.

(Edited by V. Graham)