The crisis caused by Coronavirus has thrown the plight of workers across the globe into jeopardy. Majority of them are crying for rescue in the face of uncertainty exacerbated by COVID-19.
And in the wake of massive job losses in the cut flower industry, workers who are mainly women feel helpless and only bold rescue measures can guarantee their survival.
In Kenya, about 30,000 casual workers have been axed while more than 40,000 permanent staff have been asked to take leave with industry players warning that the headcount could drop to 20,000 in the next few weeks.
“Only 50 percent of our nationwide workforce is currently working with the percentage expected to plummet to 25 percent in the coming weeks,” said Kenya Flower Council chief executive officer Clement Tulezi.
“If things do not improve then we project employee headcounts to drop to 20,000.”
Nothing aptly captures this scenario better than a recent twitter chat moderated by Every Girl in School Alliance (EGISA) in Malawi with support from Hivos under the Women@Work campaign.
The hashtag #SheTalksDecentWork which preceded this year’s Labour Day celebrations marked on May 1, brought to light the impact of COVID-19 on decent work.
EGISA’s Executive Director Wilson Chivhanga set the ball rolling by providing insights into the state of decent work in times of crisis.
The situation is dire, he said. “Never have decent work deficits and inequalities in our society been more apparent than now.”
He said that women have been disproportionately affected as they bear the burden of unpaid care work and make up the greater percentage of the informal and service sectors which have been hit the hardest.
“Women make up 75 percent of frontline health care workers and do not have adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) and continue to be paid significantly less than men.”
Most of the social media users who contributed to the twitter chat cited inadequate social safety measures to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on livelihoods.
A tweet by Leah Eryenyu of Akina Mama wa Afrika (AMWA) was emphatic that COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the vulnerabilities of women who make up a majority of workers in this sector.
“Most of these women do not have any kind of social protection and the pandemic has only served to worsen their situation with livelihoods crushing under the weight of novel coronavirus lockdown.”
In her tweet, Dorothy Otieno of FEMNET said scores of women who are household heads and breadwinners have lost their jobs as most governments enforce lockdowns to stop the spread of the pandemic.
Despite their higher representation in workplaces, she added, women hardly serve in managerial positions where decisions are made thus their contribution is entirely subjective to management interests.
“COVID-19 responses must, therefore, ensure women’s equal representation in the planning, decision making and implementation and target women and their diverse needs,” concurred Chivhanga.
EGISA’s Executive Director reiterated that governments must focus on COVID-19 responses that work and are relevant to the lived realities of African Women.
Otieno stressed the need to legitimise living wage, set safety nets for workers and ratify ILO Convention 190 on Violence and Harassment in the world of work in a bid to scale up dignified responses for workers.
In her contribution, Jessie Chingoma expressed the need for Governments to review their respective fiscal policies and guidelines with the aim of mitigating the already vulnerable working women. “Governments must introduce tax holidays and other social protection measures such as unconditional cash transfers.”
“Employers too should ensure decent work for their workers by ensuring their safety, security, remuneration and human rights.”
Akina Mama wa Afrika called on governments to provide solid safety nets as part of the economic rescue package to soften the blow wrought by the pandemic.
“Governments and CSOs from different sectors need to work together and come up with measures that take into consideration the needs of vulnerable workers. That way we will not get stuck with measures that only assist a few in our societies.”
Others called on Civil Society Organisations to lobby for what works for women. “CSOs should organise women into groups for a stronger collective voice and ensure enforcement of laws.”
Eryenyu affirmed that “no matter how resource-poor, there is no government that is going to get away with not providing an economic stimulus package. Businesses and the people who run them are engines of the economy. To secure decent work, we need businesses to have the income to pay workers.”
She urged civil societies to hold governments and employers to account to ensure that workers’ interests and needs are centred in all COVID-19 responses.
“All sectors should work together to ensure that the response is inclusive and intersectional taking into account the varied vulnerabilities that different identities face. Women who make up the majority of workers in the horticultural sector are one such example.”
The twitter chat was organised by Hivos under the Women@Work Campaign which is currently being implemented in eight African countries namely Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi.
Hivos started the Women@Work campaign in 2012 to bring about decent work for women who earn their living in global production chains, specifically in the flower industry.
This article was originally published in the Kenyan Woman Newspaper. Click here to read the original article