Report of the Committee on Safety and Health in Agriculture
Submission, discussion and adoption
Original Spanish: The PRESIDENT — The second point on the agenda is the examination and adoption of the report of the Committee on Safety and Health in Agriculture which you will find in Provisional Record No. 24.
I give the floor to Mr. A.B. Che'Man, Government delegate, Malaysia, Reporter of the Committee, to present the report.
Mr. A.B. CHE'MAN (Government delegate, Malaysia; Reporter of the Committee on Safety and Health in Agriculture) —Before presenting the results of our Committee's work, I would like to congratulate the President on his election to chair this important session of the Conference.
It is truly a pleasure to submit the report of the Committee on Safety and Health in Agriculture to the International Labour Conference. Innovation is always exciting. Our Committee has given the first reading to proposed new instruments that embody new ideas. Whereas plantation work fitted easily into the traditional industrial model when the Plantations Convention, 1958 (No. 110), [and Protocol, 1982] was elaborated in the late 1950s, agriculture as a whole now takes in large parts of the so-called informal sector, and any new standard will have to accommodate the family farms and self-employed persons that play important roles in the sector.
Our discussions, reported in Provisional Record No. 24, show very clearly the challenge which the ILO tripartite mechanisms will have to face in extending protection to all those employed in agriculture. These people do need protection. The first of the reports we had before us, Report VI(1), recounts that out of an estimated 335,000 fatal workplace accidents worldwide in 1997, 170,000 involved agricultural workers. Apart from actual loss of life, we see also a loss of quality of life. According to a recent survey conducted in 26 countries, 70 per cent of working children were engaged in agricultural activities from ages as low as five years. They may be exposed to the same dangerous tools and machines, the same poisons, the same heat and dust as adult workers. Even children below the age of five may be affected, as we see from studies that show links between occupational hazards in agriculture and disorders in pregnant women and new-born children.
Maternity protection, child labour, the informal sector, are all areas of intense activity in the ILO in their own rights, but certain particular factors must be dealt with urgently if agricultural is not to remain one of the most hazardous areas of human activity.
A particular additional complication is the regulatory environment of agriculture. The designs of occupational safety and health instruments in general must take account of the division of responsibilities in member States, between labour and health ministries and, in the case of agriculture, ministries of agriculture and of the environment.
It is one of the accomplishments of our Committee that our proposed conclusion embraced so many of these factors.
The proposed Conclusions with a view to a Convention made in Report VI(2), with which we began our work, provided a very sound basis. Our most fundamental achievement was to keep a Convention as one of our goals. The Government members of our Committee were nearly unanimous on this point. The Employer members were not in favour of a Convention, and I must salute their goodwill in collaborating with the rest of the Committee to develop this part of our Conclusions.
The continued elaboration of sectoral standards has been sharply questioned, not only in our Committee but elsewhere in the ILO and outside the Organization. But our Committee felt that it was not right for two of the three most dangerous sectors — mining and construction — to have their own international standards while the third, agriculture, did not.
It is worth recording that the word “sector” may make us think of a small slice of something. But in fact agricultural work occupies 1.3 billion people around the world — too large a part of humanity to be ignored.
The proposed Conclusions with a view to a Convention and Recommendation underwent close scrutiny and some substantial modification. We feel, as one would expect on first discussion, that they are works in progress and that the exchange of ideas that we have enjoyed in the last two weeks will enable us to come back next year to produce effective instruments containing standards for all workers in agriculture that will be as high as those in sectors that already benefit from existing Conventions and Recommendations.
Our Committee, sharing many concerns with Conference, with the Committee on Maternity Protection, is proud to have included a provision on health and safety protection for women workers in agriculture, a special point in the proposed Conclusions with a view to a Convention.
Another area of widespread concern was machinery safety and ergonomics where we made an effort to find a proper balance between generality and specificity in the two instruments before us. The word “balance” reminds me of our search for wording under several points that would enable the interests of self-employed persons to be taken into consideration without violating the principle of tripartism that is central to everything that the ILO does and stands for. We look forward to seeing if our inventions will find the success we hope for.
Our Committee had 16 sittings and examined 198 amendments. The fact that only 4 votes were held is testimony to our attempts to find consensus. We were generally aided in this endeavour by our Chairperson, Mr. George, whose patience in sometimes long and complex debates was most impressive.
The forthright approach of the Employer and Worker Vice-Chairpersons, Mr. Makeka and Mr. Trotman, respectively, was instrumental in our completing our work in the short time allotted to us. The Workers' Vice-Chairperson's expression “agreeing to disagree, without being disagreeable” characterizes very well the tone of our debates.
The willingness of all the delegates to give up nights and weekends in pursuit of the goal of firm, yet ratifiable, standards, deserves recognition, as does the ability of the Drafting Committee to rise the juridical and linguistic challenges of this complex area in producing our proposed conclusions.
I cannot close without saluting the ever-present support of Dr. Takala, the representative of the Secretary-General, and his team of experts, secretaries, clerks, typists, and others, whose work was essential to the successful conclusion of our activities.
The fruit of those activities is our report, the proposed conclusions, and the resolution to place “Safety and health in agriculture” on the agenda of next year's session of the Conference. I now have the pleasure of submitting this for your consideration and recommending it for your adoption.
Mr. MAKEKA (Employers' delegate, Lesotho; Vice-Chairperson of the Committee on Safety and Health in Agriculture) — Since this is the first time that I am addressing you, Mr. President, in the plenary, and through you this Assembly, let me congratulate you and the Officers of the Conference for your well-deserved and unanimous elections.
The position of the Employers' group on the matter now before us was clearly stated in the Committee on Safety and Health in Agriculture. We would, however, like to restate and emphasize our position, namely that we do not consider it necessary to elaborate a Convention on this subject-matter.
First and foremost, we already have the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155), which covers all sectors of the economy, inclusive of agriculture. There is also the Labour Inspection (Agriculture) Convention, 1969 (No. 129), and the Chemicals Convention, 1990 (No. 170). These Conventions apply equally to agriculture, so the question is why go for yet another Convention?
The ratification record of these existing Conventions unfortunately leaves a lot to be desired. The Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155), had only attracted 31 ratifications as of 31 December 1999. The Labour Inspection (Agriculture) Convention, 1969 (No. 129), has attracted 38 ratifications, while the Chemicals Convention, 1990 (No. 170), has only had nine ratifications. What we in the International Labour Organization should be doing is to find out why these Conventions have such a low rate of ratification. Is it because their provisions are too ambitious, making it difficult for governments to ratify them? Or is it because they have not been promoted sufficiently and effectively?
The Employers' group has repeatedly advised against sector-specific Conventions, because they tend to create or promote distortions in the economies of our respective countries, by imposing different and discriminatory standards on workers.
Secondly, and most importantly, this Organization, through the Governing Body, is already addressing the overall issue of standard-setting mechanisms and procedures. We should have awaited the outcome of that exercise, instead of going ahead with the proposed Convention and Recommendation on safety and health in agriculture.
We strongly feel that the adoption of Conventions by majority vote is at the core of the problems of non-ratification of Conventions. Conventions must be adopted by consensus, not by majority vote. A classic example of such consensus is the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182), which was able to attract the support of all tripartite partners in this house. On this issue of safety and health in agriculture, the Committee however decided to adopt a Convention and Recommendation by a majority vote rather than by consensus. It is our submission that this is sending a loud and clear message about the prospects for ratification after adoption. And this was before we even considered the contents of the proposed Convention.
This encourages us to appeal to governments, particularly those from developing countries, to review their positions on this matter before the next session of the Conference.
Agriculture is the largest employer of labour in the world. As employers, we attach great importance to the safety and health of workers in agriculture. However, we strongly believe that the matter can best be addressed through a general discussion focusing on this issue alone, perhaps with a view to the adoption of a protocol to the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155), or the adoption of guidelines for Employers and Workers, or at most the adoption of a Recommendation.
As to the contents of the instruments that the Committee has discussed at this first session, Employers are concerned about the approach which the Committee, again by majority, seems to have taken, which in our view overlooks economic realities. Some of the proposed conclusions seem to be oblivious of the fact that, in many respects, agriculture is already at the lowest margin of economic survival.
Profit margins are already very slim, and yet many countries depend on agriculture for their very survival. We fail to understand how a small farmer in a developing country can realistically be expected to shoulder some of the obligations that are embodied in the text of the proposed Convention and Recommendation.
We must emphasize that this Organization prides itself for its uniqueness among the United Nations specialized agencies because of its tripartism constituted by governments, employers and workers.
In the world of work there are only three acknowledged institutional categories to which an interested or concerned party may belong. While we are pleased that subsistence farmers have been excluded from these instruments, nevertheless a fourth party has been introduced, the so-called “self-employed farmer”. We argued at length against the inclusion of this category in these instruments, all the more so since we are talking about a group that is not represented at this Conference to air its own views.
Most importantly, we see a precedent being set which, in our view, does not augur well for the future of tripartism in this Organization. We do not think it is too late to resolve this issue by removing the category of so-called “self-employed farmers” from the text.
The Office referred to a definition of the “self-employed farmer” which clearly makes him an employer rather than a worker. In our view, a self-employed farmer should not employ another person, no matter how temporarily, because he is supposed to be an employer and a worker at the same time. We insist therefore that the Office review this definition so as to enable us to address this issue constructively at the second sitting of this Conference.
We are concerned about the provisions on risk assessment, since they are couched in a language that imposes strict liability on farmers, which is not the case in other sectors of the economy. We are most unhappy with the advice of the Office to the effect that the phrase “in as far as is reasonably practical” should not be used in the text of these instruments. In our view this goes beyond the mandate of the Office and impinges on the rights of delegates to make amendments, particularly as this clause is already embodied in numerous ILO instruments.
We would like the Office to revisit this matter and we insist on a written legal opinion. We reserve our right to study it and take appropriate steps.
We are also concerned by provisions which are not agriculture specific, but which tend to discriminate between employers in this sector and employers in other sectors. We refer, for example, to the so-called suspension of agricultural activities by the competent authority without due process of the law.
Our attempts to confine these drastic measures to imminent hazards to workers were unsuccessful. Further, farmers are now required to take into account the needs of women, especially as regards pregnancy, breastfeeding and reproductive health. Again, our efforts to point out that this matter falls under the instruments on maternity which this Conference is addressing, and that employers in other sectors are not required to do this, met with opposition from the majority of Governments and Workers' representatives.
This is over and above the fact that we do not know what these needs are and that we are therefore paving the way for unnecessary demands and disputes in the workplace. It is clauses like this which will make women unattractive as employees, an unfortunate outcome. We strongly urge Governments to review this issue too before the next session.
The trend throughout the world is towards deregulation as a means of promoting flexibility and employment in the light of the rampant unemployment problem facing most of our developing countries. These instruments are going in the opposite direction. For example, we are forcing governments to introduce laws and regulations concerning what are called “agricultural facilities”, which are widely defined in the ILO document to include even temporary structures. The practicalities can only inhibit development and retard economic growth on farms. We urge Governments to look again at this issue also, because it is one thing for governments to introduce laws and regulations as necessary, but it is another to oblige them to do so.
The same applies to the provisions concerning compulsory insurance schemes against occupational injuries and sickness. In the case of my country, Lesotho, I am really interested to hear from the Government how it intends to deal with this issue, since it voted in favour of a Convention on the subject. It is one thing to require compulsory schemes, but the question is whether we can afford them. Our proposal to make this subordinate to national laws and practice was not acceptable to the Committee.
Last, but not least, we appeal to Governments to be realistic in some of the burdens that are being imposed on employer farmers. We should not force people out of business because of the conclusions we adopt here, nor set standards which we know cannot be met. We could not believe that governments, particularly from developing countries, voted in favour of a clause that requires farmers to provide separate sanitary and washing facilities for men and women workers in the field.
In conclusion, we appeal to all members of this Committee, particularly Governments, to reflect seriously on these and other issues which time does not permit me to cover, so that at the end of the second sitting we can come up with conclusions to which we can all subscribe unanimously. As the Chairperson of the Employers' group of the whole stated, we have sown the seeds this year and shall be harvesting next year. Our concern is that it looks li
ke there are a lot of weeds at present which may adversely affect the expected harvest.
Let me conclude by congratulating Mr. George, the Chairperson of the Committee, Mr. Trotman, the Worker Vice-Chairperson, and Mr. A.B. Che'Man, the Reporter, for having very ably managed the affairs of the Committee. I would also like to congratulate the Secretariat, headed by Dr. Takala, for the assistance and cooperation that were extended to our group. Our thanks are equally extended to interpreters who facilitate our communications with each other.
Last, but not least, I would like to record my appreciation to my assistants, Barbara Pickings, Miss Jodie Stearns, the United States Employers' delegate who represented our group in the Drafting Committee, and of course to the entire Employers' group for the support and advice they gave me during the discussions.
Mr. TROTMAN (Workers' delegate, Barbados; Worker Vice-Chairperson of the Committee on Safety and Health in Agriculture) — I have the honour to address this Conference on behalf of the Worker members of the Committee on Safety and Health in Agriculture. We are very pleased that we have been able to work on an instrument which affects some 50 per cent, or more, of the working population and which touches every country in our ILO family.
Very frankly, I do not believe that anyone wants to hear long speeches any more. I will, therefore, limit myself to endorsing the sentiments of the Reporter and to saying that they accurately reflect what has transpired. I will also make a few comments intended to set the record straight.
I regret that I cannot be even more brief than that, but Mr. Makeka, as usual, has prompted some comments, which justice would demand I make at this time. I do not wish to speak about the matter of determination by consensus, as opposed to by majority, because this is a matter which is part of the ongoing discussions at the level of the Governing Body. This issue will be addressed at a later time.
I disagree, however, and I believe that our entire group disagrees, with the suggestion that the content of the draft report — and in our first reading of the Convention — makes too many demands on employers. We believe that the demands are just and reasonable. They are basic and fundamental demands and, therefore, governments, and indeed employers, should have no difficulties addressing these matters. If, from time to time, we have addressed some sector-specific areas, that is not very different from what we were able to do with those Conventions which we used as reference points. I hope that it would not be considered to be opening up an avenue of unclear demands, if we ask for simple things, like toilet facilities, for our workers in the agricultural industry. By the way, we had great trouble in getting such facilities for the members.
In short, our group does not share the view of those who would seek to deny or to prevent the creation of new standards. We accept that we must guard against the impractical, and that we must reach conclusions based on the circumstances of a modern day global society. However, at this point, our position differs from those of many others. Others would have us surrender our markets to the few who emerge as the biggest and the fastest, and sometimes the least fastidious. They would have us surrender our land, especially today, which has the best scenery and soundest environmental capacity. Then, they would seek to suppress the just expectations of our people and argue that human expectations within their globalized jungle must be brought into a paradigm which will forever maintain class, privilege and poverty.
In the recent debate which we have had on safety and health in agriculture, we have sought to challenge that paradigm and to ensure that agricultural workers enjoy conditions of work, and a working environment which are no less human and respectable than those which other workers obtain as a matter of course.
We are mature and we are realistic. We understand that the nature of the work will create some differences in detail. However, we insist that the principle of similarity must be observed. We have had some problems both from the employers and from some governments with regard to the treatment of various basic and fundamental amenities and facilities, which relate to the upholding of human dignity. We wish to serve notice that those matters have to be revisited. There is no need to embarrass anyone present.
Also, we have to revisit the matter of how workers and employers can effectively work together to monitor and maintain sounder safety and health facilities, in areas where the numbers of workers at an establishment may be very small, and the resources may not permit joint safety and health committees. We will, therefore, revisit the question of roving inspectors. We have indicated that the special conditions of the piece-rate workers need to undergo further, more detailed discussion, since we consider this kind of work to be a particularly hazardous sphere of endeavour for agricultural, as indeed for other workers. We have to examine how to protect workers from harmful chemicals and pesticides to a greater extent than we may have done in the previous reading.
We acknowledge that the Employers, and indeed some Governments, have reasonable areas for some concern. We have joined the Employers in some instances to ask the Office to review some aspects of the work that we carried out during the first reading. We think that whatever the views may be regarding the debate of future Conventions, Employers and Governments ought to be able, now and in the year 2001, to find that we can easily agree upon this Convention and the Recommendation — as we did in the matter of child labour.
We join with those who have given thanks to the Office for the work which it undertook in preparation for this Conference. There is no need for us to go into details, since we have already done that at the Committee level. It is merely left for us to again publicly thank all of those from the Employers' and Government groups and those on our side, who have supported this effort. We look forward to the support, not only from these people, but from the entire family within this tripartite body, thereby achieving a level of human dignity for agricultural workers which they deserved and indeed expect.
Mr. GEORGE (Government delegate, Nigeria; Chairperson of the Committee on Safety and Health in Agriculture) — I feel very highly honoured to make this appreciative speech to the Conference plenary session. Most of the member States of the International Labour Organization agree that agriculture is a high risk factor. It is significant to note that only two member countries have national safety and health laws that comprehensively address agriculture. Some others have national safety and health laws that do not exclude agriculture, but are not exclusively directed at this sector. Therein lies the reason why the Governing Body, at its 271st Session in March 1998, decided to place an item of safety and health in agriculture on the agenda of the International Labour Conference at its 88th Session in the year 2000. The Committee's task was to examine in the first discussion the proposed conclusion on safety and health in agriculture, and propose an instrument for protecting the safety and health of agricultural workers.
We have, in the last ten days and 16 sittings, discussed in extensive detail the proposed conclusions with a view to agreeing on a standard on safety and health in agriculture. The first hurdle we cleared was the proposed conclusion with a view to a Convention and Recommendation. I am happy to note that the Committee agreed, after elaborate discussions, to propose the Convention supplemented by a Recommendation.
We then proceeded to examine, point by point, the proposed conclusions prepared by the Office. During our discussions which, for the most part, were stimulating, delegates proposed deletions or amendments to phrases, clauses or articles. The proposals upon which we agreed were not only scientifically correct, but also flexible enough for many countries to adopt.
All groups in the tripartite Committee agreed, after healthy discussions, to include all the processes involved in agriculture, from tilling the ground to harvesting of crops, animal and livestock breeding, and agro-forestry. These were all included in the definition of agriculture. We excluded any work performed in forests and related to industrial exploitation of forests from the definition of agriculture as this was already covered in an ILO Code of practice on safety and health in forestry work. The responsibilities of the competent authorities and employers, together with the rights and duties of the workers, are so well-known to everyone that the Committee arrived at agreeable positions in the relevant points under the general provisions of the proposed document.
Similar arguments were used in determining the responsibilities, rights and duties of each group in the tripartite arrangement, when preventive and protective measures were considered. Committee members examined very critically the economic and technology transferring aspects of agriculture, and came to the conclusion that additional measures in the form of articles needed to be added to the proposed documents to take care of all workers engaged in this sector. Committee members agreed that safety of agricultural machinery needed to be standardized for wide application of the proposed Convention.
Chemicals, such as fertilizers and pesticides, are widely used in the agricultural sector. These substances were, therefore, given special consideration in the proposed standards in order to protect the safety and health of the workers. The appropriate official languages of the user country are to be used in disseminating information on agricultural chemicals.
Young workers, who are meticulously defined in the proposed Convention, are to be totally protected from dangerous work. Women workers are also given special attention in the proposed Convention.
The Committee members thoroughly examined all the points in the proposed Recommendation, and additional measures were therefore introduced to give effect to the relevant points already considered under the proposed Convention.
I would like to conclude this short speech by emphasizing that the Committee found the wording of the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155), very useful in arriving at consensus on many points in the proposed Convention.
The Committee members would like to thank the Office and secretariat for providing the very comprehensive proposed conclusions which were used as our working documents. We sincerely urge the Conference plenary session to support our Committee's stand, and I recommend the proposed conclusions with a view to a Convention supplemented by a Recommendation.
Original Spanish: The PRESIDENT — I now open the general discussion on the report of the Committee on Health and Safety in Agriculture.
Mr. AGARWAL (Employers' adviser, India) — This is my first opportunity to attend a session of the International Labour Conference. I had the privilege of representing Indian employers on the Committee on Health Safety and in Agriculture.
India is large, both in terms of its population and its area. It is also one of the largest producers of various agricultural commodities in the world.
During the deliberations in the group, and the tripartite meetings, I kept in mind and held the view that the provisions of an international instrument should be such that it should be ratifiable and implementable without detriment to the interests of workers, as well as employers. If the instrument is not flexible enough to accommodate various viewpoints and practices in different parts of the world, the very purpose of such international legislation is defeated as it is devoid of wide ratification. I am sure it is not in the interest of workers if an instrument does not receive wide ratification.
India is a large agricultural country, and I believe that provisions should be such that we feel involved in the process. The provisions of present Conventions have no practicality for us, although our entire economy is agriculture-based.
The proposed Convention, which is the result of two weeks of arduous deliberations, has such impractical provisions as the provision of chemical toilets at farms and the provision of hot meals. Stipulating regulations for agricultural buildings means little in countries like India. It is going to add to the costs of small farmers. Similarly, I feel the definition of self-employed farmers is wrong, particularly in the context of the south-east region. Small self-employed farmers do not have any permanent agricultural workers, and hence, to cover them under this instrument would be wrong. I once again appeal to keep our regions' prevailing conditions in mind. We go to open fields in the morning, and to ask us to provide built toilets is absolutely wrong and against tradition and practice. How is this possible in developing poor countries, particularly where farm holdings are fragmented? If those who advocate such impractical provisions in a Convention, and do not have ratification in mind, or wish to exclude developing countries — particularly countries like India, then there is a need to review the basic methodology of the ILO. Such advocates of impractical and rigid instruments cannot claim to be true to their constituents.
Fortunately, this is the first year of discussion. I hope members of the Committee, and particularly the Government members, will reflect on this issue and adopt a realistic approach when they come for the 89th Session.
Mr. POTTER (Employers' adviser and substitute delegate, United States) — I am making these remarks on behalf of Jodie Stearns, who is a farmer's daughter, and with her husband operates a 1,500 acre farm in the State of Ohio in the United States. These are her words. I think you will find that she is quite passionate about farming.
I am a farmer in the United States, where my family and I employ approximately 125 workers to harvest pickling cucumbers and peppers grown on our farm. Having spent the last two weeks with agricultural employers from other countries, I have learned that our concerns are much the same. They were ably presented by our spokesperson, Mr. Makeka.
The purported intent of the draft Convention as set forth in the opening paragraph is to ensure that workers in agriculture enjoy safety and health protection that is equivalent to that provided to workers in other sectors of the economy. The stated purpose, however, has been completely thwarted, as the proposals contained herein far exceed the protections afforded to workers in other sectors. I believe this draft instrument is so fundamentally flawed that no reasonable government would consider ratifying it.
Mr. Makeka has already discussed the issue of the self-employed farmers, and I only wish to say here that United States business endorses his position with respect to that.
The second specific point of concern in the draft instrument is the requirement that employers take into account the needs of women agricultural workers relative to pregnancy, breastfeeding and reproductive health. It is difficult to envision what agricultural employers would be expected to do in this regard, as special facilities are simply not plausible in a field, and frequent breaks are not possible when harvesting with a crew, especially when a perishable crop is involved. Furthermore, it would not be conducive to the health and welfare of an infant to be brought into the field. Pregnancy, breastfeeding and reproductive health are clearly not appropriate issues for inclusion in this draft instrument, and such a mandate is certainly not found in Conventions covering any other sector or industry.
Another concern for agricultural employers in the United States is the requirement of compulsory insurance for employers and self-employed farmers. This is another topic which is not covered in any other industry-specific ILO Convention, and which should be left to national and local governments to determine, in accordance with prevailing conditions and circumstances. To mandate compulsory insurance for all agricultural workers is far too broad a measure. At best, the subject should be addressed in a Recommendation. Many governments will be unwilling to ratify this document, especially in light of the fact that self-employed farmers are also included in this grand vision which aims at covering everyone with a mandatory insurance.
Another unworkable and inappropriate principle that has been introduced in this draft instrument is ergonomic considerations concerning farm machinery and even tools. This proposal is not based on any scientific research, as no ergonomic studies have even been performed in agriculture. It also begs the question of how a farmer is supposed to comply with such a Recommendation. Should he test-drive several tractors and make his decision to purchase based upon which tractor rides the smoothest, rather than cost, horsepower and warranty considerations? Where is a farmer to find an ergonomically correct hoe for his fieldworkers, or an ergonomically correct pail in which to pick vegetables? As ridiculous as these questions are, this is the light in which the proposed Recommendation will be viewed. Compliance with such a Recommendation would impose an extreme burden on governments and would greatly increase the cost of farm machinery and tools of the farmer, as suppliers simply pass this cost on. This provision far exceeds the scope of the intended and stated purpose of this instrument and could not be ratified by any reasonable government.
The most absurd proposal, however, is the one which actually recommends separate toilet and hand-washing facilities for men and women while working in the field. It is inconceivable how a small farmer could hope to comply with such a requirement, and the cost to large farmers would be prohibitive. On my farm, portable toilets are placed in the field based upon worker proximity. For example, we would not place all the field toilets at one end or one corner of the field, as this would be inconvenient for many workers. In order to comply with this proposal, however, I would either have to place two toilets at each location, one for men and one for women, or a worker would have to walk across the field to his or her designated toilet, even if a toilet for the opposite sex was located next to where he or she was working. No plausible explanation was, nor can be, provided to explain why men and women cannot use the same toilets and hand-washing facilities in the field. Again, there is no such Recommendation for any other sector in any ILO document, and this certainly is not conducive to workers' health and safety. It is obvious the only purpose served is to unduly burden, and perhaps harass, the farmer. I sincerely hope that more rational minds can prevail when we revisit this issue next year.
Agriculture is a unique industry, and agricultural employers are on the low end of the economic ladder. The draft instrument creates burdensome costs which the farmer, unlike most businesses, cannot add to the price of his product, because the farmer is a price-taker. The proposals contained in the draft instrument range from impractical to implausible, and from laughable to absurd. In its present form, it is simply not ratifiable. The draft instrument cannot be seriously considered by any country which values agriculture or which has any respect for its agricultural employers.
Mr. YADAV (Minister of Labour, Government of Andhra Pradesh, India) — I am grateful to the President for giving me this opportunity to lend the support of our country to the cause of health and safety of agricultural workers. As you may know, we have the largest population of agricultural workers in our country, approximately 150 million, and we are committed as a nation and as a Government to their welfare, health and safety. The initiative taken by the ILO to formulate international instruments, that is a Convention supplemented by a Recommendation, on health and safety for agricultural workers is both timely and commendable. Agricultural work activities range over a very large spectrum, from the most modern farms and plantations to those undertaken by small, medium-sized and marginal farmers, and even sharecroppers, squatters and indigenous people. The ILO has estimated that there are about 1.3 billion workers engaged in agricultural production worldwide, and there are about 170,000 fatal workplace casualties among such workers annually. This sector is also assessed as one of the three most accident-prone, along with mining and construction. Therefore, the need to provide protection and safety to such workers is self-evident. In developing countries, most of the holdings are small and medium-sized, and often the whole family is engaged in agricultural activities. Generally, such workers are poor, have little education, suffer from malnutrition, and are victims of chronic ill health. They also lack access to social and health care services. Many of them migrate from poor environmentally and economically disadvantaged regions to seek job opportunities in more prosperous ones. Some of them migrate through contractors. All of them are exposed to various kinds of trauma, such as social exclusion and exploitation by ruthless employers. In India, we have about 150 million agricultural workers who generally belong to the poorest and the most disadvantaged strata of society. Their working and living conditions are covered under various labour laws such as the Workers' Compensation Act, 1923, the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, the Plantations Labour Act, 1951, the Employment Provident Fund and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952, the Insecticides Act, 1968, the Labour Contract Regulation and Abolition Act, 1970, the Equal Remunerations Act, 1976, the Interstate Migrant Workers' Act, 1979, the Dangerous Missions Regulations Act, 1983 and the Child Labour Prohibition Abolition Act, 1983, etc.
Many of these laws have provisions for the health and safety of agricultural workers, but clearly much more needs to be done. With a view to providing social protection and welfare measures for agricultural workers in India, we have been engaged for some time now in the task of formulating a comprehensive law for them. We therefore welcome this step taken by the ILO. The provisions of the ILO instrument are sufficiently comprehensive, and when implemented will no doubt bring much relief to large numbers of workers worldwide, as indeed it will for the majority of workers of rural India. It is therefore a matter of satisfaction that the Committee on Safety and Health in Agriculture has concluded its first discussion and has come out with draft conclusions on the subject.
While recognizing that some of the standards may pose difficulties for some developing countries wishing to ratify such a Convention, we still strongly support this proposal, which will do much to ensure a healthy and safe workplace in the agricultural sector.
Mr. HAKANSSON (Workers' adviser, Sweden) — On behalf of the Swedish Agriculture Workers' Union and the IUF, agriculture's international association, I am delighted to have this opportunity to address the 88th Session of the International Labour Conference.
It is also on behalf of SLF and IUF that I welcome the proposed Convention and Recommendation on safety and health in agriculture, which both organizations see as a positive beginning to improve working conditions in one of the three most dangerous industries.
Whilst naturally the process must be completed at next year's International Labour Conference, its significant support gives us every reason to anticipate a second constructive and positive discussion next year, and the adoption of a Convention and accompanying Recommendation by the 2001 ILO Conference.
I am speaking on behalf of the millions of agriculture workers whose unions are affiliated to the IUF, workers who work in a sector that ranks alongside mining and construction in the shameful high level of fatalities, accidents and ill-health impact upon the workplaces. Over half of the more than 300,000 fatal workplace accidents each year take place in agriculture, which employs an estimated 1.3 billion workers internationally. Agriculture workers also constitute a large part of the more than 250 million workers injured each year and the over 160 million who fall ill due to workplace hazards and exposures.
In moving to adopt a Convention and a Recommendation, the ILO will have expressed its commitment to those workers, farmers and self-employed who work in the world's largest sector, employing as it does approximately 50 per cent of the world's workforce. The ILO will also have, once again, established that we need world minimum standards, basic social rules, if we are to look forward to a sustained and equitable development in the future. Without such rules development can be neither equitable nor, would I contend, sustainable.
This future instrument, then, will speak to the needs of minimum international standards in these and other areas affecting the health and safety of those working in agriculture.
I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the Office and secretariat, the Committee that has been working for two weeks, the presidium of the Committee and a special thanks to the Vice-Chairperson of the Workers for bringing us to this first reading.
We look for rapid and extensive ratification following its adoption next year and to its positive and significant impact on the ground, and we can assure you of the support of agricultural workers and trade unions around the world to reach this goal.
Ms. SIMIYU (Workers' adviser, Kenya) — I welcome this opportunity to speak in support of the comments already made by the spokesperson of the Workers' group in the Committee on Safety and Health in Agriculture, Brother Leroy Trotman. I would also like to take this opportunity to put on record the thanks of the Workers' group in the Committee to Mr. Trotman for his excellent work and leadership.
We have made significant progress over the past few weeks and have emerged with a proposed Convention backed up by a Recommendation. These instruments have the potential to improve the lives of millions of workers. They are sector specific, but that sector still employs about half of the world's workforce.
Women make up a significant part of that workforce as subsistence farmers, self-employed workers, seasonal and casual workers. However, their contribution has been traditionally underestimated and gender inequalities are pronounced. Women in agriculture have a high incidence of injuries according to research carried out by the ILO itself. Heavy work during crop cultivation and harvest is frequent. The risk of miscarriages, premature deliveries and spontaneous abortions have been directly related to exposure to pesticides. It is very welcome, therefore, that the proposed Convention calls for special attention to be paid to the needs of women workers in agriculture. If implemented this will bring, not just significant improvements in the lives and health of women workers now, but also for future generations.
I hope that in 2001 we will continue the excellent progress made this year and adopt a strong Convention backed up by a Recommendation.
Original Spanish: The PRESIDENT — Let us now move to the adoption of the report, of the proposed conclusions and of the accompanying resolution. We shall start with the body of the report itself — paragraphs 1-273.
If there are no objections, may I consider that we have adopted the body of the report, paragraphs 1-273?
(The report — paragraphs 1-273 — is adopted.)
Conclusions proposed by the Committee on Safety and Health in Agriculture: Adoption
Original Spanish: The PRESIDENT — We will now move on to the adoption of the conclusions proposed by the Committee. If there are no objections, may I take it that the proposed conclusions, paragraphs 1 to 38, are adopted?
(The proposed conclusions — paragraphs 1 to 38 — are adopted.)
Resolution to place on the agenda of the next ordinary session of the Conference an item entitled “Safety and health in agriculture”: Adoption
Original Spanish: The PRESIDENT — We move now to the adoption of the resolution. If there are no objections, may I consider that the resolution is adopted?
(The resolution is adopted.)
I would like to thank the Officers and members of the Committee, and of course the secretariat, for their excellent work.
Updated by HK. Approved by RH. Last update: 14 June 2000.