Experts representing workers, employers and governments, meeting at the International Labour Organization (ILO) from 25 to 29 October 2010 have adopted a new draft Code of Practice on Safety and Health in Agriculture designed to improve working conditions in agriculture which employs some one billion workers worldwide.
The new draft Code will be submitted to the ILO Governing Body in March 2011 for endorsement. The overall objective of the new Code is to help promote a more preventive occupational safety and health (OSH) culture in agriculture which employs more than a third of the world’s labour force. It will complement the ILO’s Safety and Health in Agriculture Convention 2001 (No.184) and its supplementing Recommendation (No.192) and is expected to provide further guidance for their application in practice.
According to the ILO, agriculture is the largest sector for female employment in many countries, especially in Africa and Asia, and accounts for approximately 60 per cent of child labour worldwide. The ILO claims that the draft Code would raise awareness of the hazards and risks associated with agriculture and their effective management and control; prevent occupational accidents and diseases and improve the working environment in practice; encourage governments, employers, workers and other stakeholders to cooperate to prevent accidents and disease; and promote more positive attitudes and behaviour towards OSH in agriculture throughout the sector.
The hazards facing workers in agriculture are significant and many agricultural workers suffer occupational accidents and ill-health each year. Unfortunately, children working in agricultural are far more vulnerable than their adult counterparts to these hazards due to their age, physical, mental and emotional immaturity and their ignorance of risks – as well as being subjected to abuse and coercion by unscrupulous or ignorant employers.
The new Code would establish a national framework specifying the roles of the competent authorities, employers, workers and their organisations contain specific provisions for identifying and addressing the main hazards and risks in the sector. ILO codes of practice are intended for the use by both the public and private sectors with responsibility for safety and health management in relation to specific occupational hazards, sectors of activity, or equipment. Importantly for the Global March, codes of practice are not intended to replace national laws or regulations or accepted standards.
“ILO Convention No. 184 has only been ratified by 13 countries to date,” said Global March Chairperson Kailash Satyarthi. “This is particularly worrying in terms of ensuring stronger legislative and occupational safety and health frameworks on agriculture that can protect workers and especially young workers who are above minimum age of employment but below the age of 18. We hope that the proposed code of practice will help in accelerating greater efforts to tackle child labour in agriculture.”
Global March welcomes the reference in the code of practice to the situation of young workers in agriculture which further builds on the protection platform set by Convention No. 184 and strengthens the references to minimum age, stating that no child below the minimum legal age of employment should be employed in agriculture “whether or not accompanied by a parent.” The code also highlights the need to cross-reference ILO Recommendation No. 190 on Worst Forms of Child Labour as regards guidance in the definition of hazardous work.
Nevertheless, child labour in agriculture remains an extremely challenging issue and one which has not received adequate attention, programmes or resources. Global March held its first regional consultation on agriculture in New Delhi in July 2010 and will be organising an International Conference on Child Labour in Agriculture in mid-2011 to coincide with its 1st General Assembly in Morocco. It also welcomes the recent appointment by the ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) in its headquarters in Geneva of a child labour in agriculture expert.
“For too long, agriculture has been the sector where we feared to tread in terms of tackling child labour,” said Global March Director Nick Grisewood. “And yet it appears time and again in different reports and documents as an issue that has to be dealt with urgently. We think it is time to take the word ‘urgently” at its true meaning. Steps are being taken, but the process needs to be accelerated significantly and there needs to be much greater coordination and coherence between different initiatives in different sub-sectors of agriculture, for example, cocoa and tobacco. These are just some of the issues that the conference next year will aim to address and we will be encouraging the participation of all stakeholders to support follow-up to Roadmap 2016.”
A copy of the draft code of practice can be downloaded from the ILO web site by clicking here. It is a lengthy and necessarily detailed document of over 200 pages but Global March would urge members and partners to download it and use it as part of their advocacy work on child labour in agriculture.