Why foster fair conditions of employment in agriculture?
Fostering fair conditions of employment in agriculture emerged as a theme for the SARD Initiative during the multi-stakeholder dialogues at the Eighth Session of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-8) in 2000 and of the Committee on Agriculture (COAG) in 2001.
In the field of agriculture, 450 million women and men employed as waged workers, and they account for over 40% of the total agricultural workforce. They are at the heart of the food production system but are disadvantaged in many respects. They are among the most socially vulnerable, the least organized into trade unions, and the least likely to have gender equality in opportunities, and access to effective forms of social security and protection. Many of them are employed under poor health, safety and environmental conditions.
What are conditions of employment?
Conditions of employment involve factors such as wage levels, safety levels at work, social protection, freedom of expression and organization, and gender equality.
What are fair conditions of employment?
Achieving fairer conditions of employment would provide productive work that delivers a fair income, workplace security and social protection for families, better prospects for social integration and personal development, freedom for people to express their concerns, organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.
Needs and contributions of agricultural workers and their trade unions
Labour, and the important role workers can play in implementing sustainable development, is addressed in detail in Chapter 29 of Agenda 21. Workers also have a key role in the promotion of SARD (Chapter 14 of Agenda 21). However, because they constitute a core component of the rural poor, their needs must be addressed in order to move towards SARD. Farms and plantations cannot become sustainable workplaces if workers do not achieve decent employment and living conditions, and if they cannot participate in decisions that affect their lives and workplaces.
Who are rural workers? Why are they important?
Waged agricultural workers are women and men who work on farms and in agricultural, fishery and forestry enterprises, but who do not own or rent the land on which they work nor the tools and equipment they use. In this way they form a group distinct from farmers and so need special attention in order to strengthen their role in sustainable agriculture and rural development.
Agricultural workers and their trade unions play an important role in the achievement of SARD, and their contribution to making food production and food security sustainable is virtually untapped. There are many mechanisms through which they can contribute to SARD:
The Hazards of Agricultural Employment
Agriculture is one of the three most dangerous sectors in which to work, along with construction and mining. Agricultural work also tends to be physically demanding, involving long periods of standing, stooping, bending and carrying out repetitive movements in awkward body positions. The risk of accidents is increased by tiredness, badly designed tools, poor general health and, in some cases, malnutrition. Although technological change has reduced the physical hardship of agricultural work in some cases, it has brought with it new risks related to the use of sophisticated machinery and the intensive use of chemicals without appropriate safety and health measures, information and training. Other risks of agricultural employment include infectious disorders such as those transmitted by contact with domestic or wild animals, respiratory infections, allergies, occupational cancers, poisoning and musculoskeletal disorders. Out of a total of 335,000 fatal workplace accidents worldwide each year, some 170,000 of these involve agricultural workers.
International Labour Standards
The International Labour Organization (ILO) Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work is an expression of commitment by governments to encourage fair conditions of employment. Its four main thematic areas are:
The ILO has merged these four areas into the over-arching concept of “decent work”. Decent work involves opportunities for work that are productive and deliver a fair income; security in the workplace and social protection for families; better prospects for personal development and social integration; freedom for people to express their concerns, organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives; and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.
The vast majority of HIV-infected people are in the productive age group – people between 15 and 50 years. The spread of HIV/AIDS has had a serious impact on rural populations and their farming systems, as well as service providers, with implications for the maintenance of a labour force, for family food security, and for the transfer of agricultural knowledge. In the 25 hardest-hit countries in Africa, AIDS has killed approximately 7 million agricultural workers since 1985. The most-affected African countries could lose up to 25% of their agricultural labour force within two decades. Fairer conditions in agriculture in relation to HIV/AIDS include increasing healthcare access for workers, instigating initiatives addressing HIV/AID as a workplace issue by means of prevention programmes, endeavouring to reduce discrimination in the workplace towards HIV positive people and people with AIDS.
An estimated 246 million children around the world carry out work that harms their well-being and hinders their education, development and future livelihoods. Seventy per cent of all child labourers work in agriculture. Child labour is work which abuses and exploits the child or deprives the child of an education.
The prevalence of child labour in agriculture undermines decent work, sustainable agriculture and food security, as it both maintains and results from a cycle where household income is insufficient to meet the needs of families. While children’s involvement in agriculture may indeed be a normal and useful part of their socialization and self-esteem and skills development, waged agricultural workers, farmers and their organizations have vital roles to play in helping to eliminate the worst forms of child labour, to provide quality education for children and better jobs for their parents.
To learn more please visit the website on the World Day Against Child Labour.
What can we do?
To bring about change that improves the quality of life of agricultural workers, it is necessary to:
Pro-poor Employment Strategies