Fighting for worker justice in the global economy.
The majority of Colombian flower workers receive no more than the minimum wage, about $6 a day, which covers less than half of what a family needs to meet basic human needs. A similar situation exists in Ecuador, where the minimum wage is about $5.30 a day.
Wages have deteriorated in recent years. Flower workers in Colombia have often relied on overtime pay to compensate for insufficient wages, but a 2002 law extended daily working hours and reduced overtime pay. Flower workers have reported that they receive an average of $23 to $27 less per month as a result of this law. Obligatory overtime and unpaid wages are common.
According to a report from the Colombian non-governmental organization Cactus covering the period of January 2000 through June 2004, the most common reason for Colombian flower workers to seek legal advice was failure to pay salaries, including unpaid overtime. The second most common reason was unfair dismissal. Two-thirds of Colombian and Ecuadorian flower workers suffer from work-related health problems, according to the Victoria International Development Education Association.
The improper use of chemicals in the flower industry has been the cause of both short and long term health problems for flower workers. Approximately 20% of pesticides used in Colombian flower production are known carcinogens or toxins, and have accordingly been either restricted or prohibited in North America and Europe. In Ecuador, a recent study found that flower companies use about 30 different chemicals, in addition to fertilizers. According to Cactus, when unprotected workers are exposed to pesticides, reactions including headaches, vomiting, and fainting can be immediate.
Other short term effects include rashes, impaired vision, and skin discoloration. Regular exposure to these chemicals can lead to athsma, neurological problems, congenital malformations, miscarriages, and stillbirths. According to the Colombian National Institute of Health, flower workers experience higher-than-average rates of premature births, congenital malformations, and miscarriages.
Other Health Impacts
Flower workers often report that extremely heavy workloads result in repetitive stress injuries, including carpal tunnel. Many female flower workers report ruptured varicose veins and kidney problems from standing for long hours and restricted bathroom use.
Women's Rights Violations
Women face additional challenges in the flower industry, particularly in the areas of reproductive rights. Obligatory pregnancy testing is routine. In a poll of almost 1400 flower workers, Cactus found that 85% of the female workers had been required to undergo a pregnancy test as a prerequisite for employment. Other women were asked to present proof of sterilization. Cactus also reports that each year hundreds of women flower workers visit their office after being ilegally fired as a result of pregnancy.
A 2005 study by the International Labor Rights Fund and Ecuadorian researchers found that more than 55% of women workers in Ecuador's flower plantations had been the victims of some form of sexual harassment in the workplace. Nineteen percent were forced to have sex with a co-worker or superior. Only 5% of the women workers who had been victims of harassment denounced these aggressions because they had been threatened, were afraid of being fired, or unaware of their rights. The ILO evaluated the prevalence of child labor on Ecuadorian flower plantations in early 2000. It estimated that there were 48,000 children working in floriculture in the two provinces surveyed.
Check out our collaborative labor rights blog, Labor is Not a Commodity!