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Uniting Food, Farm and Hotel Workers World-Wide

Avian Influenza H5N1: An Occupational Health, Safety and Rights Issue for Food and Agricultural Workers

Posted to the IUF website 28-Oct-2005

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Fears of a global pandemic of avian influenza (H5N1) have again highlighted the indissoluble link between public health, food safety, trade union rights and health and safety at the workplace. The rapid spread of the virus has pushed International agencies such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) to develop guidelines and action plans for national governments. These programs have major implications for agricultural workers and the poultry industry, but they are being developed and implemented in the absence of any specific recognition or measures appropriate to the workers who are in the front line of exposure to the virus.

Many of the proposed measures to combat the spread of the virus include major changes to poultry farming practices and reorganization of the industry. They will have a significant effect on agricultural workers and poultry processing workers. At the same time, none of these action plans seriously address the interests and wellbeing of processing workers or agricultural workers employed in poultry farming.

Containment and prevention measures that do not recognize H5N1 as an occupational hazard and the central role of agricultural workers' health and safety rights in arresting the spread of the virus will have a strictly limited impact.

The IUF has therefore called on the WHO to recognize the specific occupational hazards faced by agricultural workers and to incorporate appropriate measures into their guidelines and action plans. The IUF has also called on the WHO, the FAO, the OIE, and the ILO to jointly develop an action plan that addresses the multiple economic, social and health impacts of the H5N1 crisis on agricultural workers and their communities. These measures must include the active involvement of agricultural workers' trade unions in surveillance and reporting of the H5N1 outbreaks and the monitoring of measures taken by employers and public authorities

We have specifically called on the ILO to ensure that workers are not forced to participate in culling and cleanup operations under hazardous conditions, and requested it to intervene with national governments to ensure that agricultural workers are justly compensated when farms and breeding facilities are temporarily or permanently closed as a result of H5N1 viral outbreaks.

The IUF has produced a Briefing Paper on Avian Influenza (H5N1) and Agricultural Workers. It can be downloaded (in pdf format) by clicking here.