It is yet another International Women’s Day. But women who work in flower farms across the country have little to celebrate.
A recent study, Wilting in Bloom: The Irony of Women Labour Rights in the Cut-Flower Sector in Kenya by the Kenya Human Rights Commission exposes the violations that face women working there.
Ironically, Kenya is a key player in the global cut-flower market, which in 2010, generated over $7.5 billion. However, these billions mean nothing to those who truly labour to produce the flowers, flowers that are loved across the world and, of course, will be given as a sign of love to women during this International Women’s Day, as happened during Valentine’s Day.
The study, conducted among 15 flower companies in Naivasha, Thika, and Athi River, shows several outcomes.
First, due to the reduced number of staff and low level budgetary support, the Ministry of Labour has been unable to strictly enforce labour rights, as contained in various laws. Further, there is poor governance within the Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers’ Union, either caused by limited resources at branch level, demoralised officials, or simply, lack of accountability on workers’ funds.
Self-regulation of the industry was found to be weak as the employers have not brought on board the large number of small and medium-scale enterprises operating in the cut-flower sector. Further, whereas the Kenya Flower Council is mandated to set national standards for the sub-sector, there is limited workers’ participation in the development or review of the codes of standards. This also obtains in setting international standardisation procedures.
The study also found that while some companies were found to have internal policies that guide human resource management, including promotion, two things were clear.
First, companies do not necessarily involve workers in the drafting of these policies and also do not effectively communicate them to employees. Second, some companies fail to equip workers with knowledge of the policies, yet they are expected to abide by them.
With regard to the equal pay for equal work principle, some companies were found wanting. Seasonal workers, commonly referred to as casual workers, are paid less than permanent workers although they do the same amount of work. Further, overtime is usually unpaid or employers use “bonus schemes”, which are way below the overtime entitlement.
Further violations occur with regard to entitlement of pregnancy and paternity leave. Whereas all the 15 companies surveyed have implemented the policy of paid leave for all permanent workers, and this is commendable, violations still exist. There has been gradual decrease of employment of women as a result of the longer maternity leave in the new laws.
Worse still, women are perpetually screened for pregnancy, which is contrary to the Constitution, where pregnancy as a protected status should not be used to deny a woman employment. Once maternity leave is granted, the woman’s pay and other entitlements are withheld until she returns.
Other findings of this report point out violations of children’s rights, and these include absence of childcare infrastructure at the workplace, cases of child abuse, and malnutrition and occasional deaths as a result.
Finally, the report finds that despite the existence of gender-specific policies, there are many cases of sexual harassment, especially by male supervisors, termination and dismissal cases are handled in a high-handed manner and usually as a way to intimidate the rest of the workforce, and the long-term employment of casual workers to avoid paying the benefits of permanent workers.
It is a matter of concern that women suffer in silence as these and other violations thrive in an industry that reports lucrative returns.
First published: http://www.nation.co.ke/oped/Opinion/Nothing+to+celebrate+for+women/-/440808/1361374/-/g9vwke/-/index.html