OTTAWA— Flower farmer workers in Colombia say that they feel fortunate to be employed by an industry that offers job security and safety.
To date approximately 85% of flowers grown in Colombia are sold in North America. It is one of the biggest industries in the country and offers employment opportunities that are stable and highly coveted.
Though the media has dubbed flower farms as one of the most under-paid, overworked and abused industries in the world, workers say these claims are unwarranted and that flower farms offer not only secure employment but safety as well. Employees also say that these farms helped rebound the economy and caused improvements in the situation of living standards for Colombians.
“It is very sad to see this happening,” said Claudia Liliana Mejia who is employed by one of the flower farms in Colombia. “I know that Colombia and especially flowers are always attacked with a bad reputation. Syndicates wish to give a bad image to one of the biggest production incomes of our people. I wish they would come to us and ask how we feel about our jobs, because it’s different than what they say.”
The history of the flower industry in Colombia is an interesting one, dating back only a few decades. After a student named David Cheever wrote a paper titled Bogota, Colombia as a Cut-Flower Exporter for the World Markets, the South American country became a topic of interest.
The paper said that the savanna near Colombia’s capital was an ideal place to grow flowers as it was 8,700 feet above sea level and 320 miles north of the Equator, and close to the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean.
This idea propelled Cheever to build greenhouses in this area (which he eventually turned into a multimillion dollar company called Floramerica), and the success of his efforts (just as he predicted) spawned the beginning of the Colombian flower industry, as suddenly farmers had an opportunity to utilize their skills in the workforce. However it wasn’t until the United States stepped in that the industry became what it is today. In an effort to limit cocaine farming (which was creating a majority of problems in both Colombia and America) the U.S. government in 1991 suspended import duties on Colombian flowers. This helped to grow the industry because suddenly Colombian companies were able to export more, and thus create more jobs for the local workforce.
According to Mejia, (who has worked in a flower farm for over seven years) the work environment in which she is employed is like a “second home” where she can talk to her friends and have lots of laughs.
“It’s work,” said Mejia, “But I enjoy working for this company. I have been working for them since 2003 and they have been very special for me.”
To date, there are hundreds of flower farms in Colombia, and almost all are either certified through Florverde, or in the process of being certified. The Colombian flower growers’ trade association and Asocolflores established Florverde in 1996 to ensure a set of social and environmental standards, as well as a code of conduct for flower farms. Florverde strives to improve the lives and living standards of floral farm workers and their families; to preserve and protect the environment for the industry’s farmers for generations to come; and to ensure high-quality, affordable flowers for consumers year-round.
Meija says a typical day consists of cutting the stems, bunching, sieving, and defining all the cut stages of the stems in order to have a more even cut stage in bunches.
“It’s a lot of responsibility because the final customers will determine my work,” said Meija. “We understand it’s a very demanding job, and never the less sometimes we make mistakes, so we always try to do our best to fulfill the quality of our products.”
Meija says she always receives feedback and is in constant communication with her superiors.
“They are all very professional, they always what to meet the highest standards of the industry. They are always trying to improve the labors and motivation of the employees. We have a weekly meeting where we review the ups and downs of the week, and we have constant feedback from our supervisor.”
“They are very ethical,” continued Meija “they always respect the laws and all the employees and their needs. We have even founded a company that we called FONDO DE EMPLEADOS. It’s a small company that provides the employees with loans at a very low rate, also give special prices on some stores (Books, food, clothes etc).”
Employees where Meija works get paid every 15 days and have medical and protection support paid by the company.
“I work for C.I Flores Carmel S.A, and the company has 203 employees,” said Meija. “Forty-seven percent of the employees are women. Every single person is the right age to work according to the law. We are certified on Floraverde, it’s a governmental program that ensures quality conditions for workers.”
Source: Bloomex Canada