Press release No. 5
This February 14, while sweethearts in the US and Europe give flowers, the workers in Colombia, Ecuador, Kenya, and other flower-producing countries will celebrate the 7th annual International Flower Workers’ Day, with municipal festivals, and education sessions in schools and daycare centers where workers’ children study.
Organizations and consumers in the US, Holland, Austria, and the UK will also hold forums and awareness-raising activities, promoting better living conditions for those who work in floriculture. A push for direct hiring and freedom of association will be central to this day.
This February 14, one woman worker tells her story:
“I love flowers, because they have given me things, I have always worked with pleasure. The people who receive a product often forget where it came from and who made it, they forget that there is a person behind it. There are a lot of us in Colombia who depend on this work. Those who buy flowers on February 14 have to demand that workers be given decent conditions.
“My name is Diana María Goyeneche Pérez . I was born in Charalá, Santander. My mother died when I was nine. When I was young, I lived in the Youth House in Cúcuta and worked in a shoe factory from the age of 16. Later I graduated from high school with a degree in business.
“When I was 21 I had my first child. My brother, who worked as a supervisor at a flower farm, told me to come to Tocancipá to work. I arrived in 1998 and started working in the carnation fields, watering, planting. Later I worked in the packing room.
“My child got sick in 2000 and I had to quit and return to Cúcuta. In 2002 I went back and started to work at another farm. That is where I met my husband, and joined a union.
“In 2005 I went to work at Flores Singha in the greenhouses. The company was new. We had to cut 200 roses per hour. Later it went up to 240. There was a really nice supervisor there who was very kind to the women workers. But later she was replaced by César Agudelo, who always brought me problems.
“One day I started to feel the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. I had to undergo treatment for 8 days. When I returned to work, they placed me in ana rea where I had to do really hard work. I worked on my knees for 6 months.
“That’s when I started to feel the tingling and the inflammation. But they wouldn’t move me to a less strenuous task – instead they sent me to the parking room to do a really difficult job. I started to feel worse because of the cold in that room. The Professional Health Administrator visited the company and recommended that I be moved to a different job, but she was ignored. The supervisor told me: ‘This is a business, and whoever isn’t productive goes…’
“Finally I got them to relocate me. They put me on cleaning duty. I took care of the plants and cleaned the offices. One day the supervisor called a meeting to propose that we work on Sundays instead of Saturdays. I told my coworkers not to sign that document, because that would change the way Sundays were counted in our severance pay and bonuses.
“So the supervisor told me: ‘by order of the company-and I am the company-you will just wash the bathrooms and changing rooms and then go stand in front of the office there without speaking to anyone’. My coworkers cried to see me like that, and I entered into a deep depression. One day the owner of the company came and saw me standing there, and he didn’t say anything. I was there for 5 days.
“Then I filed a human rights complaint with the Personería Municipal. The complaint was sent to Asocolflores and the Ministry of Social Protection. I told the manager that I had filed a complaint against the company, and he offered me money to stop the case. I told him that I hadn’t done it for money, but to recover my dignity.
“Last July I finally quit. Now I hope that justice will be served and that the company will compensate me for all of the pain they have caused me. I hope that people will hear my story, so that this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”