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Uniting Food, Farm and Hotel Workers World-Wide

Focus on Rural Employment/Poverty/Rights at International Labour Conference

Posted to the IUF website 17-Jun-2008

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The first discussion on rural employment issues in the ILO for 20 years was held at this year's International Labour Conference (Geneva, May 28-June13, 2008). A specific committee was mandated to review the nature, magnitude and changing patterns of rural employment and to develop a comprehensive strategy to promote employment and decent work in rural areas. The Committee was also tasked with developing an ILO action plan to implement the strategy.

After three weeks of difficult negotiations over language on what should be universally recognized as basic rights including free education and access to potable water, the Committee finally agreed a set of conclusions and a plan of action.

The action plan recognises the key role of agriculture in development and calls for an "enabling policy environment which ensures adequate institutions, decent work and sufficient well-targeted public and private investment".

The decent work deficits in agriculture were well covered in the background report prepared by the ILO. The report highlighted the lack of fundamental rights for agricultural workers, linking this to major health and safety problems, the widespread use of child labour and the lack of social protection and social security for rural workers.

The Committee's conclusions recognised the role of trade union-driven initiatives like RENATRE (the national register of rural workers in Argentina which ensures seasonal workers access to social protection) and the Employment Guarantee Act in India.

The Workers Group and its Spokesperson, James Ritchie of the IUF-affiliated New Zealand Dairy Workers Union, welcomed the conclusions of the meeting and the action plan. Ritchie stated that the Workers' Group was particularly pleased by the recognition in the conclusions that decent work had to apply to all forms of employment relationships; the clear call for investment for rebuilding rural infrastructure and the ILO's commitment to work towards bringing the global "social floor" into rural areas.

He warned, however, that rural poverty could not be seen in isolation from the driving forces that are changing the nature of the global food chain: "The impact of increasing retail concentration and the control over the chain by a small number of supermarkets, the increasing control of commodity traders and the impact of increasing financialisation in agriculture".

The Workers Group was successful in getting agreement for the ILO to research the employment impacts of biofuels, and also succeeded in securing adoption of a resolution on the role of the ILO and its members in tackling the food price crisis. The resolution mandates the ILO to convene a tripartite technical meeting on the food crisis and its impact on decent work.

The full report of the Committee's deliberations, the conclusions including the action plan and the resolution can are on the ILO website here.