Kenyan flower farm workers riot after mass sacking

Hundreds of workers at a leading Kenyan flower farm rioted after being sacked en masse for striking in a dispute over wages and working conditions, officials and witnesses said on Tuesday.

Police fired tear gas and fought running battles on Monday with the workers, who were among more than 1 000 employees at the Oserian farm in Kenya’s central Rift Valley fired for participating in the strike, they said.

Several injuries were reported in disturbances outside the farm, which produces roses and carnations for export to Europe, on the shores of Lake Naivasha, about 90km northwest of Nairobi, they said.

The employees were sacked for staging an illegal strike by not giving 21 days notice of the action they called to protest the withholding of overtime payments and onerous work conditions, officials said.

“Following your illegal strike, the company has terminated your services with immediate effect,” Naivasha District labour officer James Muthee told the workers after meeting with the farm’s management.

“The 21-day notice procedure before any strike was not observed and thus you have to face the consequences,” he said.

Employees said they had refused to report to work on Monday and instead converged near the farm headquarters to protest an unannounced deduction of 800 Kenyan shillings ($11) from their monthly salaries.

The deducted money was pay for working on Sundays, they said.

They were also complaining that some had been sent by the farm to fight a fire in the nearby Hell’s Gate National Park, en route to which a vehicle overturned, injuring 52 flower farm employees, 25 seriously.

“Fifty-two workers nearly died while trying to put off a fire yet they are not fire experts and neither were they hired for that purpose,” said union representative Issa Wafula.

“Flower farms have for a long time oppressed their workers and its time the vice stopped,” he said.

Company officials refused to comment on the incident, deferring to Oserian managing director Ron Fossel, whom they said was in a “crisis meeting” and unavailable.

The developments come as Oserian, which does business with the British supermarket chains Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer, is striving to improve its reputation by joining a fair trade network.

But some workers have alleged the scheme at the 20 000ha farm is flawed and riddled with bias.

Horticulture, particularly flower production, is Kenya’s third biggest foreign exchange earner, bringing about $100-million into the economy every year, with most flowers exported to Europe. - Sapa-AFP

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