15 Oct 2020

A Journey of a Thousand Miles

2020 wagagai flowers uganda
Bright Prossy tends to young plants at one of Wagagai Ltd’s greenhouses
Fairtrade Africa

Thousands of East African flower workers are benefitting from better wages since the introduction of a Fairtrade floor wage - one step on our journey towards a Living Wage.

Every month, Bright Prossy sets aside a portion of her monthly wages and sends it to her mother upcountry. She saves the surplus that remains after her monthly costs with a Savings and Credit Association at Wagagai Ltd, in Uganda. With time, she hopes that she will have saved enough together with her siblings to construct a house for their mother and then start saving for her own.

A harvester at the Fairtrade certified young plants farm, Bright joined Wagagai Ltd three years ago, about the same time the producer was just beginning to implement the Fairtrade Floor Wage requirement for the flower sector. The mother of two is one of the 15,000 workers on Fairtrade certified flower farms in East Africa who have benefited from significant wage increments.

East Africa’s floriculture industry has in the last years experienced significant growth, reinforcing the region’s position as Africa’s largest exporter of cut-flowers. However, unlike Kenya where Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs) that are revised periodically have at least seen flower producers exceed the poverty line defined by the World Bank, neighboring countries like Ethiopia and Uganda have experienced growth without (effective) national minimum sector wages or collectively agreed wages for workers. As a result, wages have fallen below poverty lines, limiting workers’ ability to meet their essential needs and afford a decent standard of living.

As a result, Fairtrade in 2017 acted to improve wages by introducing the Fairtrade Floor Wage in Hired Labour set-ups, requiring Fairtrade certified flower producers to adopt the World Bank poverty line of US$1.9 PPP/day as a floor pay for the cash wages received by workers. Implementing the World Bank poverty line means that the regular conversion of US$1.90 in the local currency of a country, has to be corrected for the purchasing power of the US Dollar and inflation in that country. Every year the World Bank adjusts Purchasing Parity factors, which means that Fairtrade Floor Wage is not stagnant but moves with the costs of living. Fairtrade certified flower producers therefore adjust the cash wages for their lowest paid workers accordingly.

Three years since its introduction, the journey of thousand miles is well on its course. As of January 2020, all Fairtrade certified flower producers in East Africa, covering approximately 67,000 workers, had met the Floor Wage requirement applicable in their respective countries. A recent assessment of the impact of this measure found that thousands of workers, particularly in Ethiopia and Uganda have benefited from wage increments.

Steps Towards Decent Wages

In Uganda, workers at Wagagai Ltd have received an increase of approximately 28.9%, with the lowest paid workers now earning a UGX. 202,000 monthly cash wage. This presents new opportunities and hope for workers like Bright to meet their basic needs and even invest in personal projects. Jonah Lubega, also a harvester at Wagagai Ltd has started a small business where he sells tomatoes while off work. According to Ambrose Kiwanuka, Wagagai’s Fairtrade Officer, the grower’s Savings and Credit Association has recorded a dramatic increase in deposits, particularly from general workers who now collectively own the largest percentage of shares. “Workers want to save more so they can borrow substantial amounts to invest in their own development projects,” says Ambrose.

Our thanks go to Fairtrade Africa, on whose original article this piece is based.