Penta flower farm offers a few perks to workers but women missing at the top
Despite the common perception that flower farms mistreat workers and have little regard for their welfare, some are trying to beat this stereotype.
There are certain flower farms that have put in place initiatives towards improving the welfare of the workers.
One such farm is Penta Flower Limited, located in Thika Sub-county of Kiambu County.
Beatrice Kadeni is a flower picker who has worked at the farm for about 15 years. Sharing her experience as a woman at work in a flower farm, Kadeni, who started as a coffee picker says: “Before the flower farm, it was only a coffee farm. The coffee bushes were partly cleared to create room for green houses to be used for flowers. That is how I ended up in flower picking.”
Getting employment in a flower farm is not easy. Those seeking job opportunities in flower farms as casual labourers are queue at the gate in the early hours waiting hopefully that the person in charge will pick them.
This is what Kadeni did when she joined other job seekers at the gate. She got lucky and was selected when they needed to hire coffee pickers.
“When they need to employ few people, they shortlist using form four certificate or previous experience, but when they are hiring large numbers of people they pick randomly from the people queued at the gate waiting for an opportunity to arise,” explains Kadeni.
Since she joined the company, Kadeni has never looked back following the company rules to the letter. “You can easily be replaced anytime by the hordes of people waiting for employment opportunities at the gate,” she says add, “even right now as we speak, you will find people at the gate, yesterday two men were employed”.
Penta Flower Limited provides a good working environment for its employees. “We are provided with protective wear such as dust coat, gloves, hair turban, gumboots, sweepers and masks,” she says.
Kadeni says they are provided with a bar of soap twice a month to use in clean their work garments as well as toilet paper twice a week as a way of taking care of their welfare.
In case an employee loses an immediate family member, they are supported and entitled to one off day per week.
The flower farm also gives bursaries to their children when they perform well in the national examinations of the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) and Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE). “All you have to do is present the child’s results to the office and they give you a certain amount to help with the school fees depending on their performance,” she says.
While there have been cases of sexual harassment against women in the farm, Kadeni notes that these have reduced tremendously because there is a clear reporting system.
“We have chosen team leaders amongst ourselves who take up cases of harassment to the office and the parties involved are called for a meeting. If one is found guilty, their services are terminated immediately regardless of the position they hold,” explains Kadeni.
As much as the farm has tried to create a good working environment for the workers, there are still some few challenges that have to be solved.
In Non-Tradition Agriculture Exports (NTAES), women wage workers appear to be working in more precarious positions than men. For instance, in South Africa, women make up 69 percent of temporary workers (Barrientos et al., 1999), and in Tanzania, women comprise 85 percent of the casual workers planting, harvesting and grading on flower farms, while men occupy managerial positions (ILO, 2003)
Penta Flowers Kenya Limited is not any different as there are no women holding management positions. “We have three male managers. The high ranking women serve as supervisors. Each green house has a male and female supervisor,” she says.
According to Kadeni, the wages she was paid when she joined Penta Limited as a coffee picker have never changed. “I have worked at Penta for about 15 years and despite the changes in economy, my wages have never changed even with one coin.”
This is despite there being the Flower Wages Council, which has representatives from Central Organisation of Trade Unions (COTU), Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE), the Government and other stakeholders which look into the issue of wages and working conditions in flower farms.
When asked whether there is special treatment for single mothers, Kadeni is quick to explain that they are not asked about their personal life.