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Flower farms woes deepen as thousands are laid off

More than 6,000 flower farm workers have lost their jobs in Naivasha in the last four years with fears that the numbers could rise in the coming months according to the Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union (KPAWU).

Karuturi and Oserian flower farms have contributed to the highest numbers at 5,000 with farmers blaming high cost of production and wage bill for the crisis.

First to go down was Karuturi flower farm which closed doors four months ago, sending home more than 2,500 workers after it was placed under receivership over accrued debts.

Even as the workers were trying to come to terms with the closure, the leading and oldest farm Oserian Ltd sent home more than 2,500 workers four months ago.

The farm attributed the lay-off to poor European market and the high cost of production in the last couple of years with the prices remaining stagnant.

“We have contracted out all our flower packing operations and similarly put all our non-rose crop production on a contract basis,” said the farm while defending its actions.

Ferdinand Juma, the KPAWU secretary-general Naivasha branch, says the move had raised fear and anxiety among the workers.

Juma said that tens of workers from other smaller 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 said.

The union also accused some leading flower farms of casualisation of labour which had seen workers put on contracts which ended just when salaries were about to be reviewed.

According to Juma, the new trend was also meant to lock out workers from trade union representation.

“We have seen cases where investors are employing workers on seasonal basis meaning that they cannot get the annual pay rise as per labour laws,” he said.

Juma identified Oserian, Shalimar, Beautyline and Olij as some of the farms that had placed the majority of their working force on contract.

He identified Olij as the most notorious farm where workers were put on six-month notice and laid off just as the union was discussing salary increase for flower farm workers.

One of the farm managers who declined to be named admitted that all was not rosy in the sector and pointed to the high cost of production and the rising wage bill.

“Currently, the wage bill is the biggest challenge facing farmers coupled with poor marketing and massive taxes from the national and county governments,” he says.

Speaking earlier, the Kenya Flower Council (KFC) chief executive Clement Tulezi identified poor infrastructure as one of the major challenges that flower farmers faced.

He added that double taxation by national and county governments were also a thorn in the flesh for the farmers who were incurring huge expenses due to the crisis.

Tulezi called on the two arms of government to harmonise the taxes and challenged the national government to give farmers tax incentives as it had done to the Ministry of Tourism.

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