THORNS AMONGST ROSES

Pain for women working in flower farms as Valentine Day nears

The demand for flowers is very high, leading to management insisting that they work for many hours.

In Summary

• Having worked in the flower farms over eight years now, one woman understands the cycle of production too well.

•During the peak season, she has to delegate her parental responsibilities to her neighbour at a fee.

A woman works in one of the flower farms in Naivasha recently.
A woman works in one of the flower farms in Naivasha recently.
Image: John Muchangi

As Valentine Day approaches, many people all over the world are preparing to spend money to buy gifts to express love for their loved one. But this will not be the case for flower farmworkers.

 For every beautiful rose that will be given to you, there is a touch of a woman worker silently and tirelessly labouring for many hours to produce it. On many occasions, they do so working in poor conditions and unfair wage schemes.

 The irony is that these women know no cheerful moments or smiles brought about by the flowers they nurture and beautifully package for the occasion.

 One such woman is Gladys Nyongesa (not her real name) who works in a packhouse in one of the flower farms in Naivasha.

 Having worked in the flower farms over eight years now, she understands the cycle of production too well. During the peak season, she has to delegate her parental responsibilities to her neighbour at a fee.

 “I have no other way out but to part with Ksh 50 per day to pay my neighbour for taking care of my children while I am at work,” says Nyongesa.

 A single mother of three living in Kargita, Nyongesa has to leave her house at 6am and walk for 30 minutes to catch her transport on the main road.

 Nyongesa says that during peak seasons in the horticultural sector the demand for flowers is very high, leading to management insisting that they work for many hours.

 “Working in the pack house department is the toughest job in the flower farms because once I report, I am not sure what time I will clock off, especially at peak times.”

 “Sometimes I finish at midnight to deliver on my target of 3,500 stems before I can retire for the day.”

THORNS AMONGST ROSES REPORT

The report indicates that unlike other industries requiring high levels of unskilled labour, employees working in flower farms are generally poor, in search of employment, and easily-replaced. As a result, employers are in a considerable position of power in their ability to dictate terms of employment.

 Like many of her colleagues, her salary is pegged on production and not monthly wages. This means her monthly take-home varies from one month to the next. Bonuses are only allocated once they reach the target which most of the time is impossible for the majority of women workers.

 Nyongesa complains that the greatest challenge for them is security especially when they have to pass through their poorly lit slums after their night duty. Cases of robbery and rape have been reported.

 According to a report titled: Thorns Amongst Roses: A Cross-country analysis of Human Rights Issues in Flower Farms in East Africa, majority of women working in this sector suffer in silence for fear of repercussions if they complain.

The report indicates that unlike other industries requiring high levels of unskilled labour, employees working in flower farms are generally poor, in search of employment, and easily-replaced. As a result, employers are in a considerable position of power in their ability to dictate terms of employment.

Yet over 75 per cent of women working in the horticultural sector like Nyongesa contribute significantly to the country’s foreign income and gross domestic product.

 According to the Kenya Flower Council, the flower industry contributes around 1.06 per cent to Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It’s also one of the largest employers in the country, providing employment to over 100,000 people directly and an estimated 2 million people indirectly. 

During Kenya’s Flowers Industry Expo, the Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya (FPEAK) reported that the horticulture industry earned the country a total of Sh.153 billion worth of exports in 2018 up from Sh.115 billion in 2017 from the sale of fruits, vegetables and flowers in the international markets.

Flower exports earned Sh.113 billion, fruits and nuts approximately Sh.12 billion and vegetables fetching Sh.27 billion, totalling to over Sh.153 billion. The Association indicated that the future of horticulture is promising, projecting an earning of Sh.160 billion in 2019.

As partners in [email protected] Campaign push for improved terms and conditions for   women working in flower farms, there is need for the government to do more if the problems bedevilling the sector are to be solved.

“Kenya has the advantage of a solid legal framework for action, and the Government must first of all step up efforts to ‘walk the talk’ to translate existing legislation into practice"
Anita Ramasastry, chairperson, Working Group.

Lucy Iminza, a workers representative, says the government, which is responsible for regulation, ignores the interests of flower farm workers.

"The Kenyan labour laws do not favour us as workers at all. Our employers take advantage of these policies and go ahead to pay us whatever is stipulated. Because of this, our lives literally remain at the same level no matter the number of years worked," she says.

The United Nations Working Group on business and human rights is too urging the authorities in Kenya to turn ideals set out in the 2010 national constitution into action that ensures businesses respect human rights.

“Kenya has the advantage of a solid legal framework for action, and the Government must first of all step up efforts to ‘walk the talk’ to translate existing legislation into practice,” said Anita Ramasastry, chairperson of the Working Group.

The UN annual Forum on Business and Human Rights is the global platform for stock-taking and lesson-sharing in an effort to move the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights from paper to practice.

It provides a unique space for dialogue between governments, business, civil society, affected groups and international organizations on trends, challenges and good practices in preventing and addressing business-related human rights issues.

The Guiding Principles indicate that ensuring access to effective remedy is part of the State duty to protect workers against business-related human rights abuse.

For now, women like Nyongesa hope that one day they will also enjoy their sweat and hard work that goes into putting a smile on faces of millions of people.