Over 140 employees at a flower farm in Nanyuki are appealing to the Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU) to rescue them from an impending layoff at their place of work after the managers sent them on a three months’ unpaid leave only to declare them redundant when the leave ended.
The workers claim that the management of the farm scaled-down operations in May at Kongoni River Farm situated at Likii village on the outskirts of Nanyuki town citing reduced flower export business due to COVID-19 and consequently sent them on leave.
The workers stormed the flower farm on Tuesday seeking to have a meeting with the management but were shocked to learn from the Human Resource Manager Charles Kamau that they had been declared redundant and that those who wished to continue working at the farm would only be engaged on a temporary basis as daily casuals.
Stephen Mwangi, the workers’ representative lamented that the flower company had decided to terminate their services despite most of them having worked for 15 years at the farm.
“This is the most inhuman way to treat workers who have been loyal to their work for many years. We have families who depend on us yet they have decided to terminate our contracts,” Mwangi said.
Mwangi alleges that the flower farm took advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to terminate their work contracts citing low flower demand due to the banning of flights to Europe which is one of the key export markets.
“They initially asked us to proceed on unpaid leave until the COVID-19 situation in the country improves but later on started intimidating most of us to sign redundancy letters or resign which we have refused now they are threatening mass sacking,” Mwangi added.
The employees through their umbrella body Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union (KPAWU) and COTU now want the flower farm restrained from sacking them arguing that flower exports at the farm had not been affected by the COVID-19 since they had secured direct European markets.
Catherine Njiiri another representative of the workers lamented that the farm recruited casuals to continue with the work permanent staff were undertaking imMediately they were sent on unpaid leave.
“They told us operations would be scaled down but now we see them recruiting more casuals and even increasing the number of greenhouses under flowers every day. They used COVID-19 as a way of getting rid of us,” Ms. Njiiri said.
Contacted, the Human Resource Manager declined to comment on the matter saying the press had not booked an appointment.