INTERNATIONAL DAY OF FLOWER WORKERS
February 14, 2011
Flowers are exported & lives wither
(Translated by Deryn Collins, a CSN Volunteer Translator. Edited by Teresa Welsh, a CSN Volunteer Editor.)
For flower workers these days are special for many reasons. From around December 1 until late February, they are preparing for St. Valentine's Day, when the huge production of flowers is sold abroad.
For the workers, this is a time of hard work, very little sleep and time away from their children, fighting against intense tiredness. It is also time to prepare for the International Day of Flower Workers, when they are celebrated for being important to Colombia and also to look at their working conditions and the exercise of their rights.
For many of the inhabitants of the Sabana de Bogotá, this is a time of opportunity to earn some extra money to help pay for their children's education, pay college fees, and for those who have some job in the sector, there is the possibility of earning extra money for the extra work.
Without a doubt, for some it is a period when the demands of long working hours and high productivity generate a lot of stress and other psychosocial factors – both personal and work – which affect their physical and emotional health. This is one of the findings from the research done 'Subjetividad y Factores psicosociales intralaborales, extralaborales e individuales en trabajadoras y trabajadores florícolas de la Sabana de Bogotá' (Subjectivity and psychosocial factors, at work and in the personal lives of the individual flower workers and workers of the Sabana de Bogotá), which was carried out by Corporación Cactus ( Cactus Corporation) during the second half of 2010 as part of the agreement with the Instituto Salud y Trabajo de Perú (Peruvian Institute of Health and Work).
"You sometimes see people who voluntarily, take not even thirty minutes for lunch but only take ten and then go back to work, just to complete some goal or other and obviously in fear of losing their job." This was what one of the people interviewed in the study said and the results showed that in this sector, according to the logic of the agro-export model, the human beings are not the centre of the production process, but on the contrary, the workers are useful as they are the tools needed for the carrying out of the work required to satisfy external market demands. While health is seen as an area in which certain requirements must be met to avoid legal problems and the avoidance of problems is a priority and a challenge which must be addressed, there is still irreversible impact on the physical and mental well being of the thousands of people who work in the flower industry.
In the aforementioned study, high risk psychosocial factors for physical and mental health at work were found, such as excessive control of working hours by managers and supervisors, a low sense of a job well done by the workers, excessive psychological demands, a low level of team feeling, job insecurity, the psychological demands because feeling have to be hidden, and the lack support at work and socially. Also associated with these risk factors are unemployment, the high cost of living and the absence of support networks either at the level of national government and/or local communities from the Sabana de Bogotá.
The research also found the presence of gender-related factors, such as the differences in the allocation of tasks and workloads, which in the case of women involve high frequency quick repetitive movements in both the growing and postharvest stages. Also the dual presence of many women and few men in the world of work and in domestic life (running the home and caring for the family), brings physical and emotional burdens that exacerbate the risk factors for health. That there is some form of collective resilience used by workers to overcome difficulties; such as being members of a union, is especially important given the personal and collective empowerment that is offered by this type of organization, and the support and protection they represent.
Various investigations in the field of psychosocial factors have shown that those workers, who are associated in different organizational groups, have better mental health, because organizations such as unions provide a protective factor. The investigation found that the working model of the flowers exporters of the Sabana of Bogota, neither encourages, nor makes possible, forms of association for the workers. This is another factor of the working conditions that has a negative impact on the mental health of the workers in this industry.
Workers whose experiences contributed to the research invite their peers to strengthen their capacity to overcome difficulties through calls for unity, for unions, for the participation of companies, by the owners and managers and by ensuring that the worker's feelings and thoughts are taken into account. We also invite the workers to claim their rights to speak and express themselves, strengthening the physical self and the emotional development that comes from a positive and constructive attitude, and personally and collectively meeting the challenges.
On this Feb. 14, on the International Day of Flower Workers let all workers hear these voices, so they can enjoy PHYSICAL AND MENTAL health, which are more important than a thousand flowers all together!
Bogota, Colombia, February 2011.
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