Reckless sexual behaviour could spread coronavirus in the cut flower sector

BY  · MAY 19, 2020

Cases of sexual harassment are not new in the floriculture industry. And although a majority of the flower farms have policies against the vice, it remains rampant.

Reports indicate that more than 90 percent of the workers rank sexual harassment as the most difficult problem experienced by women in the sector.

According to data released by Labour and Environment Watch, 40 percent of workers had experienced offensive sexual jokes and comments, 24 percent experienced unwanted touching and 18 percent had received threats of reprisals for not responding to sexual advances.

Another 4 percent reported sexual assaults. Most of the harassment occurred at the workplace and in the vehicles workers are transported to and from work, and in places they reside.

This is despite the fact that most of these farms have adopted sexual harassment policies which are prominently displayed in their premises.

In the wake of COVID-19 outbreak, workers are being advised to maintain a safe distance to avoid  infection.

“Good hygiene and social distancing is the best way to prevent the virus from spreading in the farms,” adds Eunice Waweru, the Coordinator of the Worker’s Rights Watch.

According to Waweru, the lobby group has stepped up efforts to educate workers on the dangers of COVID-19. “We are urging them to avoid shaking hands, hugging or kissing with people with flu like symptoms.”

“We have been taking advantage of every opportunity in the farms to educate the workers to maintain a distance of at least two meters apart.”

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The lobby group is among partners that have been spearheading a number of initiatives under the Women@Work campaign to address and improve conditions of women working in the horticultural value chain.

The lobby group has pushed for the adoption of the sexual harassment policy by a number of fair-trade certified farms. In addition, the policy has influenced relevant indicators into the Kenya Flower Council’s standards to effectively monitor the status of Sexual Harassment in the farms during audits,” explains Waweru.

A majority of farms have outlined a raft of measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.

According to Caroline Toronto, a senior manager at Sian Group of Flowers, the management has rolled out a comprehensive civic education programme to educate workers  on the dangers of the disease and how to avoid it.

“We are encouraging hand washing and disinfection of all vehicles ferrying workers to and from work.

The company has provided water tanks and hand washing points at strategic areas within the farm.

Other quick actions include regularly monitoring employees’ temperatures to make sure it is normal. “We have also drastically reduced the number of employees in the grading department to 30 people to promote social distancing.

She says that women who are the majority in the grading department were the first to take a hit from the disruption occasioned by COVID-19.

Waweru calls on the government to liaise with the Kenya Flower Council (KFC) and Fair Trade to take immediate interventions to cushion both the workers and the sector from the impact of coronavirus.

COVID-19 has evolved from being a public health issue and analysts now warn it could cause an economic catastrophe.

Many of the 41 Naivasha-based horticulture firms have sent their employees on leave.

Ferdinand Juma, who is the Kenya Plantations and Agricultural Workers Union (KPAWU) Naivasha branch secretary, says that only unionised members have been granted paid leave. This is because their employers are legally bound by Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs).

“Those on unpaid leave are non-unionised workers, mainly casual labourers working in vegetable firms whose operations are seasonal, and women are majority,” said Juma.

In flower farms, the female workforce is estimated to be between 65 and 75 per cent. This means the recession is directly affecting some 71,500 to 82,500 women out of the estimated 110,000 workers.

Juma says the longer the pandemic lasts, the more jobs will be lost. “When farms harvest 100,000 (flower) stems and only 3,000  are ordered, what does that mean? No returns and no work,” he said.


This article was originally published in the Kenyan Woman Newspaper. Click here to read the original article

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