Some cut flower farms are yet to meet the required employee health and safety levels even after the introduction of stringent requirements by European retailers, according to a study by Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.
The findings which were recently presented at the University’s annual scientific, technological and industrialisation conference in Nairobi, questions the notion that the industry, blamed time and again for its low concern about employee’s health and safety, had finally met the mark following conditions set out by the European Retailers Representative Group on Good Agricultural Practice (EUREPGAP) in 2003.
Researchers from the University, R Gakure and A Mugambi set out to investigate what factors were influencing health and safety of employees in cut flower farms in the country ‘and specifically the case of such farms in Juja.’ Verdict: The safety and health of workers in two of the four firms in the area which were investigated are not adequately being addressed.
Among others the European Union supermarkets require growers to adopt production systems which protect the environment, and provide improved labour practices and conditions for their workers.
“This study targeted flower farms all over the country, but due to limitation of time, convenience and funds, a case of flower farms in Juja and its environs was the main focus,” said the experts. A sample of two cut-flower farms out of the four operating in the region was randomly selected.
The respondents, were picked from three groups: Management, permanent and casual/temporary employees. “The findings of this study revealed that the independent variables under investigation played a substantive role in the area of health and safety of employees in the flower farms,” said the researchers. They however recommended that there was an urgent need for the farm owners to provide proper protective clothing, and that the Government should help in development of health and safety policies for such workers.
A spot check by Horizons on a few other flower farms closer to the City revealed almost similar findings. “We lack proper protective clothing, as well as legislation to force our bosses to implement some of the EU regulations,” said Simon Ndilinge, who works at a flower farm in Kajiado District.
It was evident that most of the casual workers on many flower farms live in slums because of the low wages they get. They earn an average of Sh 170 per day, for six days in a week which pales into insignificance when mentioned alongside the Sh 28 billion earned from the horticultural industry last year alone.
According to the EUREPGAP standards, workers on flower farms should be paid Sh 2000 above the official minimum wages as stipulated in the country’s labour laws.
But according to the employees, this may not happen soon. “Working on a flower farm is not a bed of roses,” said Ndilinge. “We work simply because we have families to feed, and we also need that coin for our survival,” added the casual labourer.
Some flower farms in several parts of the country have had many complaints of sexual harassment, law wages, questionable promotions, dangerous working conditions and intimidation by their seniors documented.
All these are against the standards stipulated by the EU.
Recently another farm in Kajiado was ordered to stop any further expansion, in order to pave way for the National Environment Management Authority to conduct an Environment Impact Assessment. This came after local residents complained to the authority that the farm was a major cause of pollution to the environment.
However the company’s general manager was quick to defend his company against claims of exploiting its workers. “We are doing everything to ensure that we adhere to the EUREPGAP standards and regulations,” he told Horizons. “We pay our workers well, provide shelter for them, give sound working conditions, and offer healthcare services for them and their families,” he added.
Tribulations of workers in flower farms came to the national attention in 2000, when several reports were made public.
In 2001, the Kenya Human Rights Commission’s monitoring research program noted the increase in such cases, and thereby undertook a study on the working and living conditions of horticultural workers.
A report: “Beauty and the Agony” was then published, which later led to convening of national and regional workshops and public campaigns to educate workers about their rights through civil societies, trade unions and the investors in Kenya.
When the workers’ cries reached the flower consumers abroad, it led to the stipulation of the EUREPGAP standards, spearheaded by the European supermarkets. Yet, these rules have not fully been adhered to. And now, the university researchers want the Government to get involved in implementing these conditions.