VALENTINES DAY

Why farm workers are crying foul over CBAs

Many flower farm workers have little to show even as they work nonstop to meet the demands of retailers, during Valentine's season

In Summary

• Many get way below the current minimum taxable living wage that experts say should be over Sh12,000.

•Still, many people find it difficult to survive on this raised wage due to the high inflation of over five per cent annually.

Workers strike in a Naivasha flower farm in 2016.
Workers strike in a Naivasha flower farm in 2016.
Image: George Murage

As Valentine’s Day nears, business people and lovers are a happy lot.

The businesses are looking forward to the day to make handsome profit while lovers to express their feelings of joy and fondness to each other.

But this will not be the case with thousands of flower farm workers who will have to work many hours to meet this demand.

The majority have little or nothing to show even as they work nonstop to meet the demands of retailers, particularly during this peak season.

While a most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) should have come as a big relief to the workers, the increment did very little to make their cost of living less painful.

According to Rebecca Mwikali (not her real name), the increment was a sham and did not reflect the high cost of living.

“Our last increment was a big insult to the hours we spent toiling in the flower farms to make ends meet,” says Mwikali, who works in flower farm in Naivasha, Nakuru county.

The increment became effective on August 1, 2019. Currently, workers receive Sh6,500.00 per month, plus Sh2,500.00 house allowance where a house is not provided for by the employer. These wages, according to Mwikali, are hardly enough to give flower workers a decent life.

 This amount is way below the current minimum taxable living wage that experts say should be over Sh11,000. Still, many people find it difficult to survive on this raised wage due to the high inflation of over five per cent.

Speaking during a recent labour conference organised by the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Kenya, the Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union (KPAWU) Secretary-General Ferdinand Juma noted that, “the CBA will last for two years after which we are supposed to negotiate again.”

What is annoying workers is that over the years, the mechanisms adopted to negotiate a CBA rarely bring any meaningful change to the workers' welfare. To them, such negotiations have turned into a public relations exercise.

This is despite the fact that the CBA is highly regarded in the sector and has in the past served to secure favourable terms and conditions of employment for workers in the cut flower industry.

THE CBA

The minimum wage paid to workers is derived from a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), which is negotiated between the Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union (KPAWU) an organization representing workers in the sector and Agricultural Employers Association (AEA) an organization representing members of Flower Growers Group (FGG).

So why do CBA’s fail to produce the handsome results work are looking for? Scores of workers attending the labour conference revealed that the negotiation process is marred with corruption as union officials demand kickbacks from employers to give them favourable agreements.

According to James Nyakio (not his really name), the agreements are rarely inclusive. “The contents of the CBA remain a highly guarded secret and this explains why most flower farms violate the CBAs.”

The minimum wage paid to workers is derived from a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), which is negotiated between the Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union (KPAWU) an organization representing workers in the sector and Agricultural Employers Association (AEA) an organization representing members of Flower Growers Group (FGG).

 The collective bargaining between AEA and KPAWU covers the preamble, agency fee, probation period, working hours, weekly rest days, overtime, gazetted public holidays, annual leave, compassionate leave, sick leave, maternity leave, leave for union officials and representation, housing and housing allowance, acting allowance, dispute and individual grievances.

Other areas covered by the CBA include the suspension, termination and resignation of employment, summary dismissal, uniforms and protective clothing, medical attention, death of an employee, retirement age, gratuity, redundancy, essential services, term contract, seasonal labour, certificate of service, change of ownership, transport, payment of wages, basic minimum wage and job classification, general wage increase and effective date and duration.

The problem is, the majority of the employees do not know the details of what was agreed upon on each of these areas.

The first FGG-CBA negotiated between AEA and KPAWU was signed in 1997, and has continued to be reviewed periodically after every two years.

You need to be aggressive as union representatives because you are dealing with a global value chain.”
Odete

Andrew Odete, a lead consultant with HIVOs, is categorical that participation of workers is key when crafting a CBA.

“Participation is very important when formulating a CBA as negotiations should always go beyond the more restricted notion of wages or salary to give workers fair remuneration that is enough to meet their basic needs. This includes education for their children, food for the family, transport, medication and housing.”

Odete feels that employees through their union representatives should explore an array of options when seeking redress. “You can develop campaigns targeting consumers of flowers in the global value chain and tell them you consume flowers which are produced through slave labour.”

He further underscored the need for union officials to broaden their advocacy capacities. “It is not just dealing with governments and employers, there are people who can influence issues across the board. You need to be aggressive as union representatives because you are dealing with a global value chain.”

According to Mr Peter Otieno, a representative from Labour and Environment Watch (LEW), wages determination based on minimum wage policy cannot fight and eradicate poverty among the working poor, especially in a liberalized market like cut flower.

“It is also clear that the collective bargaining regime of a multi-employers FGG-CBA between AEA and KPAWU cannot produce meaningful effect in the fight and reduce poverty in flower sector.”