Magazine article New Internationalist

A Rosier Valentine's for Ugandan Flower Workers

Magazine article New Internationalist

A Rosier Valentine's for Ugandan Flower Workers

Article excerpt

14 FEBRUARY

VALENTINE'S DAY

When flower workers in Uganda are injured or have disputes with employers, they know who to go to. Stephen Barasa, head of the Ugandan Horticulture and Allied Workers' Union, barely sits down to morning tea when he is interrupted by a worker who has fallen off the roof of a greenhouse and dislocated his wrist. Later, in the busy union office, he finds waiting for him an employee who has just been laid off.

Peter Olinga has been fired for not spraying all of a greenhouse, a task he swears he completed. 'For six years I have not even been suspended for a day. But today they told me, "You go. We don't need you - we will train someone else."'

Barasa shakes his head, and says it's a case of wrongful dismissal: 'Don't worry, we are going to handle it. You will go back to work.'

Since Barasa set up the flower workers' union four years ago, Valentine's Day has got a whole lot sweeter for the 8,000 workers in Uganda's $35 million-a-year horticulture industry, which exports mainly roses. Barasa, who himself worked in the flower industry for 15 years, once saw a woman who could not afford to miss work give birth in a flower field. Employees got rashes from working unprotected with fertilizers; one even died from contact with the posionous chemicals they contain.

Now Ugandan flower workers have paid maternity and paternity leave as well as annual leave and weekly days off. As a result of the union's demands, employers have purchased gumboots, smocks and gloves for employees. …

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