Women hardest hit as flower farm workers face layoffs
The Kenya Plantations and Agricultural Workers Union (KPAWU) has raised its concern over the high job losses around the tens of flower farms in Naivasha.
The union has noted that over 5,000 workers, majority of who are women, have lost their jobs in the last two years.
There are fears that the numbers could rise in the coming months as farmers complain of harsh economic times coupled with a poor market in the European Union
The flower sector in Kenya has grown to be vibrant warning the country over KSh70 billion annually and contributing to about 1.5 percent of the national Gross Domestic Product. Kenya is a lead exporter of flowers into the European Union taking up 38 percent of the market share.
Over 500,00 people, including 100,00 farm employees rely on the sector which impacts about two million livelihoods in the country. Layoffs would have a crippling effect across the board.
Karuturi Flowers, one of the largest flow farms closed its doors in 2015 and sent home over 3,000 workers after being placed under receivership over accrued debt.
And as the workers were trying to come to terms with the closure, the leading and oldest farm, Oserian Limited sent home over 400 workers.
The farm attributed the layoffs to poor markets in Europe and high cost of production in the last couple of years with the prices remaining stagnant.
In January, this year, over 500 workers from Kongoni River Farm (Star Division) which is owned by Veg-Pro Limited were sent home in unclear circumstances.
Ferdinand Juma, Secretary-General Kenya Plantations and Agricultural Workers Union, Naivasha branch, said the move has raised fear and anxiety among the workers.
Juma noted that tens of workers from other smaller flower farms had in the period lost their jobs with their employers pointing to the high cost of production.
“There is a crisis in the flower farms and we are calling on the national government to address the issues raised by the farmers so as to save thousands of jobs,” he says.
Juma terms the flower sector as very crucial adding that hundreds of families benefit directly and indirectly from the sector. Most of the workers are women and a majority of them being single mothers. Loss of jobs will particularly hit women hard as they form a huge bulk of flower cutters. It’s even worse if they are sent home without compensation which they could use to buffer themselves as they look into other options.
He notes that the fate of Karuturi workers has not been resolved two years after the farm, which at one time produced over six million stems of roses per day, was put under receivership managers.
“Some of the workers have died while waiting for their savings while the area hospital has been closed down and the fate of the nearby schools hangs in the balance,” Juma said.
One of the farm managers who declined to be named admitted that all is not rosy and pointed to the high cost of production and the rising wage bill.
The manager noted that the announcement by President Uhuru Kenyatta that the Government will raise the minimum wage had sent shivers among the employers.
“Currently the wage bill is the biggest challenge facing the farms coupled with a poor market and the tens of taxes from the national and county governments,” he noted.