Rural workers face serious decent work deficits

GENEVA (ILO News) – About 80 per cent of the world’s poor live in rural areas, many of whom face serious decent work deficits, including insufficient job security, low wages, lack of stability and work safety and excessive working hours, with women and young workers hardest hit according to a new report from the Bureau for Workers’ Activities (ACTRAV) of the International Labor Organization (ILO).

The report, Decent work deficits among rural workers is based on 16 case studies covering 15 countries in Africa, Asia, Central Asia, Europe and Latin America.

The report finds that:

  • Chemical exposure poses serious health and other risks agricultural workers, especially children and pregnant and lactating women.
  • Women workers are disproportionately represented in the most precarious positions. Female workers also tend to work in low-paying, low-skilled jobs, suffer huge gender pay gaps, and are more prone to workplace harassment and abuse than male workers.
  • Child labor, forced labor and debt bondage are still a reality. Up to 95 per cent of children engaged in hazardous work are employed in agriculture, particularly in the cocoa, palm oil and tobacco sectors. Forced labor is also a reality in some sectors and is linked to the multiple dependencies of workers on employers.
  • Weakness of social dialogue and obstacles to access to workers’ organizations. In many sectors, trade unions are either non-existent or face major obstacles in interacting with other workers’ organizations such as farmers’ groups and cooperatives. Social dialogue and the representation of female, informal, casual, seasonal, temporary and self-employed workers are all areas of particular concern, as is the representation of smallholders.
  • Social protection remains a dream. Inadequate social protection is a particular problem for workers in precarious situations, including informal, casual, temporary and subcontracted workers and day laborers who make up the vast majority of agricultural plantation workers.

The ACTRAV report makes a number of recommendations to help address these decent work deficits. They understand:

  • Strengthening labor administration in rural economies
  • Improve the presence and capacity in rural economies of trade unions and other grassroots workers’ organizations
  • Formalize informal enterprises and employment agreements
  • Ratification and compliance with relevant ILO conventions and other international labor standards
  • Integrate rural economic sectors into formal and institutionalized social dialogue processes
  • Strengthening crisis preparedness and social protection in the rural economy
  • More research and policy analysis to better understand and respond to the needs and expectations of rural workers and their organizations.

For more information please contact:
Mamadou Kaba SOUARE
Manager, Communications and Publications
Email: souare[at]

About Keneth T. Graves

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