International Women’s Day: The IUF Calls for Strengthening Decent Work in Agriculture to Protect Women’s Rights

The coordinator for global agriculture at the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF), Ms Sue Longley, stressed the need to strengthen decent work in agriculture to protect women’s rights.

Press release | Geneva,Switzerland | 08 March 2012

Geneva, 8 March 2012 (ACTRAV INFO) -The coordinator for global agriculture at the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF), Ms Sue Longley, stressed the need to strengthen decent work in agriculture to protect women’s rights.

"I have to put on record that for both men and women employed in the agricultural sector, it is regrettably characterized by significant decent work deficits. Agricultural workers are often denied access to even the basic of rights covered in the ILO’s core Conventions, in particular to freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively”, said Ms Longley during a panel discussion organized by the ILO’s Bureau for Gender Equality, to mark the International Women's Day with the theme "Empower rural women - end hunger and poverty".

Ms Longley drew attention to the fact that although the share of agriculture in total global employment is declining it still remains a source of significant employment – accounting in 2007 for 34.9 per cent of the total employment. “Women comprise 43 per cent of the agricultural workforce”, added Ms Longley.

Women are employed in all agricultural sectors and activities, facing much precarity in their work and lives, Ms Longley emphasized. “They work as day labourers, as seasonal workers, as migrant workers, on plantations and in pack-houses, in glasshouses and cold stores”. In the tea sector, which globally employs millions of workers, women are the largest part. In sugar cane harvesting their role varies enormously – “...in Africa women do not generally cut cane whereas in the Caribbean they do”, explained Ms Longley.

The coordinator of global agriculture at IUF has also stressed that the food crisis affected millions of families around the world because of speculation and the production of bio-fuels: “There is a great and cruel irony in the fact that those who feed the world often have the least resources to feed themselves and their families. In 2008 food riots in urban centres and capital cities lead to front page stories about a global food crisis. In reality it was a food price crisis – rocketing prices for food staples caused by several factors, including speculation and production of bio-fuels – pushed many thousands into starvation. There was no shortage of food, people just did not have enough money to buy it,” said Ms Longley

According to Ms Longley, women workers are facing many problems in agriculture including sexual harassment: “although it is difficult to get statistical data on the extent of sexual harassment of women agricultural workers, anecdotal evidence gathered by trade unionists indicates it is widespread, especially when women are on temporary contracts or piece rates. Often they have to give sexual favours to supervisors to ensure their contracts are renewed and that they get their full pay entitlement”, she said.

ILO standards have a key part to play in empowering rural women and ending hunger and poverty. In her statement, the agriculture coordinator of the IUF also insisted on respect for maternity rights recognized by the ILO instruments: "although ILO Conventions on maternity rights cover all workers, it is difficult in practice for women workers in agriculture to exercise these rights."

Finally, the IUF welcomed the adoption by the ILO of Convention No. 189 concerning decent work for domestic workers (2011) and expect that this ILO instrument can help women, who are in the majority in this sector.

“Domestic work is also a significant employment sector in rural areas –- it is not uncommon for the wife or girl child of an agricultural worker to be expected to “help out” in the employer’s household. Their work is unrecognized, unacknowledged, in particular because it takes place in private households. So the IUF strongly welcomes the adoption last year of Convention 189 on decent Work for Domestic Workers”, concluded Ms Longley.

For more information, see Ms Longley’s full statement …

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