UHWAHU Secretary General, Stephen Barasa, says all firms need to emulate Ugarose to buy workers protective gear because if they are protected, their productivity would increase and companies would realise better results.
Many workers on several flower farms in Uganda have lost their sight or worse while spraying chemicals on flowers . Usually, they are given some money to go back home where they waste away. The workers are paid a daily wage of between UShs2, 000 to Ush3, 000 depending on the farm. Many have recently staged strikes to push for better working conditions and salaries.
Not long after Paul Ssekamate, 23, began to work at Rosebud Flower Farm in Kakindu, a few meters from Kawuku Trading Center on Entebbe Road, his eyes started to itch and burn. He noticed that the eyes had become painful and teary after he pulled a flower bed while scouting for mites. Doctors told him chemicals had affected him.
“I can only see things that are near me. I don’t know whether I can do any significant job in future,” 23-year-old Ssekamate, who also looks after a three-year-old son and wife, laments.
According to his account, he was told to go back home and after the situation becoming worse, he took the matter to the workers union which mounted pressure on the flower farm bosses to foot his hospital bills. He has been getting treatment from Mengo Hospital but he says doctors have not confirmed if he will fully regain his sight.
Another flower worker, Sam Ngoroye, 45, says he got a dislocation on the knee after sliding and falling in a store while working at Rosebud Flower Farm. He says the firm managers gave him USh80, 000 for treatment and he went to Mulago Hospital but the money was not sufficient.
“I am thinking of going back to the village but how would I manage to fend for my six children when I am lame?” Mr Ngoroye asks. Mr Mehta Dimpo, Rosebud Flower Farm administration manager, rubbishes the claims, saying the farm has a clinic where all people who get injuries while at work are first treated before being rushed to hospitals.
“Major cases are referred to Entebbe, Mulago or Kisubi hospitals,” he adds. He says the company has documents to prove that all these people (complainants) have had their hospital bills footed by Rosebud. “We have also provided all workers with protective gear to stop chemicals from affecting them,” he adds. Mr Stephen Barasa, the union secretary general says they are constantly undermined by flower farm managers, who block workers from joining the labour union.
He says unions have managed to sign agreements with almost all the flower companies, giving the union the right to converse with members and mobilise them on their demands. Some companies have agreed to increase the workers’ pay and recognise public holidays. Working hours have been reduced from 12 hours a day to eight, with overtime paid at 1.5 times regular wages.
However, Mr Barasa says many workers are harassed for joining the union, which scares many away
There are over 3, 117 members in UHAWU, but this is small compared with the total workforce. “More are still joining which makes us hopeful”.
Uganda has some 20 flower farms, mostly located in Wakiso, Mukono and along Masaka near Lake Victoria. They include Expressions, Ugasrose, Alarm Roses, Rosebud, Melissa, Tropical, Venus and Wagagai . Last month, 850 workers at the Rosebud petitioned the government over alleged continued abuse of their rights at work claiming that they work under pathetic conditions despite extremely low pay.
The development followed an incident in which one of their colleagues, Mr Safari Mazirani, was hurt while on duty and later lost his life. Last year, nine horticulture companies committed themselves to uphold workers’ rights as well as enhance their salaries.