Women lose out as they go missing from top leadership
For 14 years Eva Moraa* (not her real name) worked in the flower farms in Lake Naivasha area, in Nakuru County in an environment that left a lot to be desired.
She started off in 2000 as a fresh flower cutter with a weekly salary of KSh350, as a casual worker.
Moraa worked hard and rose through the ranks to be elected a shop steward for the Kenya Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union (KAPWU).
Later in 2010 she was confirmed and started being paid KSh3,800 per month plus KSh800 house allowance.
Four years later, the mother of four was forced to resign on medical grounds after complaining of chest pains and breathing problems due to impact of toxic chemicals that are used in the farms. She was then earning KSh8,300 and house allowance of KSh2,000.
By then, she and her husband who worked for a state corporation in Naivasha town had four children to feed and educate. Two of them were in secondary school.
According to Kenya’s labour laws, the minimum wage in the country is KSh6,415 for an unskilled worker and KSh7,492 for a skilled worker.
The work environment was not anything to harp about, but because of desperation and lack of an alternative, Moraa soldiered on with supervisors and managers who she describes as “slave-drivers”.
Moraa laments that some male supervisors and human resource managers treated them better than the female ones.
According to Grace Nyongesa, a lawyer based in Nakuru: “Women working in flower farms are torn between their productive and reproductive rights which has led to frustrations, stress and low self-esteem.”
Litigation is a major challenge for the aggrieved workers due to the vicious cycle of poverty, poor support by labour officers, intimidation, victimisation and long delays in the judicial process.
Nyongesa notes that the women’s woes are aggravated by low participation in trade union leadership as well as missing out in supervisory and/or management roles.
Other major challenges are lack of child care facilities, short term contract amounting to discrimination on account of pregnancy, unequal pay for equal work and summary dismissal principle abused by most employers to deny women their benefits.
In order to get the job, like her rivals, Moraa had to queue with scores of other women and some men outside the main gate armed with her national identity card and academic certificates. There was no clear cut policy and criteria for recruitment. This was exploited by some of the supervisors and managers who were corrupt, promoted ethnicity and demanded sexual favours.
Looking back, the former shop steward is proud that during her tenure the number of employees registered in the union rose from 400 to 700 out of a total work force of 800 workers in the farm that is a leading exporter of cut flowers to Europe and other parts of the world.
Says Moraa: “Initially we had to beg to be given time off just to go the washroom. We bitterly protested and were glad when the trade union was allowed to register us to protect our labour and human rights.”
Several telephone calls and short text messages to Jane Ngige, Chief Executive of Kenya Flower Council, seeking for an appointment and views on the claims by the workers went unanswered.
During a recent interview in Nakuru town, Moraa and a former colleague who was also a shop steward revealed that they have been victims of harassment by the management for standing firm for their members’ labour and human rights.
But not all flower farms are slave-drivers; many are providing their workers with transport to and from their residence, especially those who are not housed in the compound.
During the period she worked in the flower farm, Moraa says she hardly saw any journalists or civil society organisation officials’ tour or interview fellow workers. In fact, whenever there was a scheduled visit and conducted tour by union officials, media, auditors and inspectors, the management would alert the workers to be in their best behaviour and to desist from talk carelessly.
Organising Secretary of Kenya Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union (KAPWU) Henry Omasire confirmed those claims, saying some flower farms were so secretive that they have been forced to issue court orders to gain access to union members.