89th Session, 5 - 21 June 2001
Report of the Committee on Safety and Health in Agriculture
report: first and second
Submission, discussion and adoption
The PRESIDENT — Today we open the 19th sitting of the 89th Session of the International Labour Conference. The first item on our agenda is the review of the report of the Committee on Safety and Health in Agriculture, which is to be found in Provisional Record No. 15 [first and second part].
I give the floor to Mr. Abu Bakar, Reporter of the Committee, to submit the report.
Mr. ABU BAKAR (Government delegate, Malaysia; Reporter of the Committee on Safety and Health in Agriculture) — It is always a privilege to address the International Labour Conference and I am especially honoured that the Committee on Safety and Health in Agriculture has chosen me for a second time to enjoy that privilege.
It is a particular pleasure to come before you today to report on the success of our Committee in establishing the text of the proposed Convention and the proposed Recommendation on safety and health in agriculture.
Before describing for you how we achieved that, I would like to add my congratulations to those already offered to Ms. A. Sto. Tomas on her election as President of this 89th Session of the International Labour Conference.
Many of the Government members of this year’s Committee testified to the central role of agriculture in their countries’ economies. The ILO estimates that, for the world as a whole, half of the workforce is engaged in agriculture and we have heard from countries where the proportion of the agricultural workforce reaches 80 per cent. The global proportion of workers is, unfortunately, mirrored in a global proportion of workplace fatalities. Figures from 1997 suggest that out of 335,000 fatal workplace accidents worldwide, 170,000 struck agricultural workers. If the total annual loss of life to work-related accidents and diseases is 1.2 million, half of these can be expected in agriculture. Many times more numerous than the fatalities are the injuries and the non-fatal diseases, the cases of social disruption and environmental degradation entailed by a disrespect for ILO principles in this sector.
It was with a strong sense of commitment that our Committee reconvened two weeks ago for its second reading of a proposed Convention and a proposed Recommendation on safety and health in agriculture. We examined documents that had undergone almost three dozen substantive changes since their first reading, as a result of responses to questionnaires on the proposed instruments approved at last year’s Conference.
In addition, our Committee added a new Article to the proposed Convention, according to which “Hours of work, night work and rest periods for workers in agriculture shall be in accordance with national laws and regulations or collective agreements”. This constitutes a landmark because it has not always been recognized that working time arrangements have a significant impact on the safety and health of workers.
The ratification of the proposed Convention under discussion was a constant concern of our Committee and I am personally pleased to be able to say that most of the provisions of the proposed instrument, including those on working time, are already consistent with Malaysian legislation.
In addition to producing instruments that would set standards for all workers in agriculture as high as those for sectors that already benefit from ILO Conventions and Recommendations, we were also asked to discuss the possibility of studying the impact of trade clauses on safety and health in agriculture. The Committee felt that it did not have the competence or the mandate to vote on a resolution on this topic but many members of the Committee thought that the subject deserved a place on the ILO agenda some time in the future.
We held 19 sittings, three more than for the first reading of our instrument last year and examined 226 amendments as against 198 last year. We owed our productivity to the excellent rapport that existed within our group. When I had the honour of presenting our Committee’s report last year, I remarked on the degree of consensus shown by the four votes taken during our deliberations.
What can I say this year? We produced the proposed Convention and proposed Recommendation with only one vote. For example, the expression “as far as reasonably practicable” reintroduced by the Employer members and viewed favourably by a number of Government members, was a potential obstacle to a successful conclusion. But, in the spirit of collaboration that typified our debates, the compromise terminology “in so far as is compatible with national laws and regulations”, was accepted as the equivalent.
For their part, the Worker members pushed hard for recognition of regional city representatives for workers in undertakings too small to have their own city committees, but they were willing to let this issue be handled at the national level for the time being.
This ability to reach practical consensus without compromising principles is a gift abundantly shared by Mr. Schlettwein, the Chairperson, and Mr. Makeka and Mr. Trotman, Vice-Chairpersons of the Employers’ and Workers’ groups, respectively.
I would also like to pay tribute to the contribution of the legal adviser and deputy legal adviser of the Conference, both during sittings of the Committee and during the ten-hour drafting committee meeting that successfully integrated the many amendments and stylistic changes adopted during our two weeks of deliberation.
Finally, sincere thanks are owed to Dr. Takala, representative of the Secretary-General, and his team of experts, secretaries, clerks, typists and others whose work was essential to lead to the successful conclusion of our activity. It is the outcome of those activities, our report and the proposed instruments in Provisional Record No. 15, Parts 1 and 2, that I now have the pleasure of submitting for your consideration and recommending for adoption.
Mr. MAKEKA (Employers’ delegate, Lesotho; Employer Vice-Chairperson of the Committee on Safety and Health in Agriculture) — Since this is the first time that I am addressing this assembly this year, allow me to add my delegation’s congratulations to the President and the Officers of the Conference on their unanimous election to manage and guide the deliberations of this Conference to successful conclusions.
I speak here today in support of the report of the Committee on Safety and Health in Agriculture, which has just been introduced by our Reporter. It will be recalled that the Governing Body decided to put this item on the agenda of the Conference for the Conference to consider whether to conclude international instruments in the form of a Convention or a Recommendation. The Conference assigned this item to a Committee, which worked on the matter over a two-year period, culminating in this report and the two instruments — a proposed Convention and a proposed Recommendation — now before this assembly.
The Employers’ group in the Committee made it clear right from the start that it was opposed to a conclusion that would lead to a Convention and Recommendation on the subject. This was in accordance with the group’s stand against sector-specific instruments. We were of the view that the subject matter itself was not ready for the conclusion of international instruments in the form of a Convention and a Recommendation owing to widespread practices among member States. At no point, however, did we minimize or doubt the importance of safety and health of workers in agriculture. We are after all, the first to uphold and safeguard health standards for workers because we need healthy workers to contribute towards the productivity and profitability of our farms. We would have preferred the matter to have been handled by way of a general discussion or at most by way of a protocol, codes of practice or guidelines for employers and workers and their organizations.
We remain opposed to the practice of concluding sector-specific ILO instruments and we are gratified that the Governing Body of the ILO is addressing this issue comprehensively. We are concerned at the continuing tendency of some of our collaborators who perceive the mandate of the International Labour Conference as the compilation and manufacturing of one instrument after another without regard to the consequences. This attitude seems to be shared by many Governments who support and favour whatever instruments are concluded by the Conference, knowing very well that they will not ratify them or incorporate them into their national legislation. Thanks to the Employers’ group in the Governing Body, the numerous instruments that have gathered dust on our shelves are being reviewed with a view to updating them or discarding them if they are found to be obsolete.
The world has changed, and this Organization with it, from the days when employers were treated as strangers and in some instances the enemy on whom as many obligations as possible were to be piled. Today, employers are and must be perceived for what they really are, namely, creators of jobs and the most realistic vehicle for economic and social development. I cannot deny that employers in the past may have contributed to the hostility and confrontational approaches that characterized employer-worker relations at the national level and in this House. Employers today, while still pursuing profit margins, have accepted and acknowledged their social responsibilities towards their workers, the environment and the communities they serve. The championing of fundamental principles and rights at work as well as the Global Compact to give two examples, are a living testimony of this commitment on the part of employers. Unfortunately, there are still remnants of the old legacy amongst our collaborators and in this House who still believe that international instruments such as Conventions and Recommendations are a panacea for problems which cannot be resolved to their satisfaction at national level, and that these instruments can and must be adopted by majority votes as opposed to adoption by consensus even if the employers are opposed to such instruments. The recently adopted Convention and Recommendation on maternity protection is a glaring example and we are not surprised that to date it has only attracted two ratifications.
It is against this background that we approached the matter assigned to the Committee. We made our commitment clear that, if the Workers’ group and the Governments were determined to have a Convention and Recommendation on the subject of safety and health in agriculture and this was done by way of a vote, we would go along with the conclusions of the proposed Convention and proposed Recommendation provided that they took into account and reflected our rights and interests as employers, and that they were flexible and not overly prescriptive to allow for the possibility of wide ratification. We knew that at the end of the day, we could not get everything that we wanted so we approached the matter in a spirit of give and take “as opposed to the spirit of take and grab”, to quote our Chairperson. We are grateful that this spirit permeated to all groups and in consequence we were able to draw up the texts now before you largely through consensus.
The deliberations of 2000 were so difficult that I was very sceptical about the prospects of a compromise. At this juncture, I would like to point out that in March 2001 inter-sessional informal consultations, sponsored by the Director-General himself, could be said to have been a turning point because they opened up avenues and created trust and confidence among us. For this I would like to express our appreciation to the Office and to the Director-General for having made those informal consultations possible.
This year there was good will on all sides. Even though we lost on the issue of “as far as is reasonably practicable” referred to by the Reporter, particularly under Article 4 of the proposed Convention, on the whole our concerns and interests were taken into account. We are very grateful to the accommodating spirit of the Vice-Chairperson of the Workers’ group, Mr. Trotman, as well as his group because they were happy to accommodate us even when we had shot ourselves in the foot. There are many other issues which, in our view, could have been included or excluded from the instruments — for example, we did not want to see any reference to self-employed farmers in the wording of the proposed Convention or in the text of the Recommendation. But, as they say in this House, most of us can live with the present text of the proposed Convention and proposed Recommendation.
I have no hesitation, therefore, in commending the report as well as the two instruments for adoption by this Conference. It is our hope that the two instruments will be adopted with the support of the Employers as well. This does not mean that individual Employers’ delegates may not have reservations or misgivings about one or two points in the text. There will therefore be Employers’ delegates who may abstain from voting on the instruments for one reason or another, some of which I have already elaborated on.
I would like to conclude by expressing my thanks and words of appreciation to our Chairperson who did a marvellous job in promoting consensus in the group, to the Vice-Chairperson of the Workers’ group as well as to his group, to the many Government delegates and representatives as well as their spokesperson, and to the Reporter and the Drafting Committee, and lastly but not least to the Office and the secretariat. And I would like to end by thanking the Employers’ group itself without whose support, guidance, cooperation and understanding we would not have been able to reach where we are today.
Mr. TROTMAN (Workers’ delegate, Barbados; Worker Vice-Chairperson of the Committee on Safety and Health in Agriculture) — In commending the report on the attending instruments to this house, I wish to advise that I have been directed by the Workers’ group to express their deep gratitude to the following persons and institutions for the great assistance they rendered us in the preparation, discussion and conclusions of the item now before us, addressing the matter of health and safety in agriculture.
We are especially grateful to the SafeWork staff, to JUR (legal services) and to all other staff members for their long hours, indeed long months, of dedicated work aimed at providing delegates with a sounder basis at every stage in our debate.
We are grateful to the Employers’ group for being positive and committed, particularly in being able and willing to rise beyond their original objections and display a strong sense of commitment to the instrument before us.
We are so satisfied with that positiveness that we do not believe that there will be any abstentions or disagreements among the Employers.
We wish to thank all those governments which participated in the debate, particularly those whose skilful representatives frequently lifted the debate when it was threatened by obstacles of various sorts. Our special debt of gratitude goes to the representative of the Government of Namibia, Mr. Schlettwein, who, as Chairperson of the Committee, led the way with patience, evenhandedness and humour, and always with a focused sense of purpose.
The various members of the Workers’ group came here last year, and again this year, looking for a different set of conditions in many of the Articles which were eventually agreed.
We had a sense, however, far beyond our dreams and wishes, that history would deliver judgement on our action in the Committee and later, like today, on our report and the eventual result of the vote.
The Workers’ group gave ground, as did the Employers and most Governments, to ensure a Convention which is flexible and highly rectifiable. There are two important and influential considerations which consolidated our sense of commitment. One relates to the ILO itself, and the other to the protests of civil society.
Let us take the second one first. Geneva, Seattle, Davos, Washington: meetings of influential world organizations and their attendant meetings of the young and the not so young, the poor and the not so poor, the constructive and the not so constructive.
All are driven by the same rejection of the current rules of engagement. Some of them are our children. Many of them are wealthy and able to afford the phenomenal cost of transport from city to city. All of them are driven by a demand for change in the terms of this engagement — a demand to see identifiable world movers and shakers, and to be able to discuss rules and methods with them in moving towards an acceptable new world order where transparency is the buzz word and social inclusivity is the guiding objective.
This vision of the demonstrators and the demonstrations taking place all over the world should be instructive, just as we need to have a clearly defined mirror image of ourselves and our position within the present-day landscape of human interaction.
These protestors are impatient with the way in which international organizations function, and whether we like it or not, we have to admit that in the case of Seattle, they have forced the establishment to rethink its position on matters relating to human values and social justice.
Fortunately, they view the ILO in a less hostile manner than they do other international bodies. The image of the ILO has improved in recent times and the campaigns it is promoting for peace, bread and freedom have done much to restore the faith of several developing countries in the Organization.
We have to recognize that if we do not make meaningful efforts to meet this demand for transparency and for inclusivity, then the attention focused on other international bodies may also be turned on us with equal anger.
The report before us represents a marvellous level of goodwill. The Workers’ group wishes to make the point that this instrument represents a challenge — a challenge to see in the course of time whether members participating in the ILO’s activities can further demonstrate their faith in, and commitment to, a better life for all.
In the time remaining, let me draw attention to the view of the secretariat that this may be the last of the sectoral standards.
Paragraph 9 in the report correctly refers to ongoing discussions at the level of the Governing Body. But it may be misleading for this House if it is not confirmed that, in the final analysis, standard-setting matters reflect the importance which the Governing Body assigns to issues as they unfold.
The Workers’ group looks forward to seeing support, and indeed funds, for ensuring decent work in agriculture, and to having early indications that this vast body of workers in agriculture, which was neglected in the past, now has protection equivalent to that enjoyed by other workers.
The Workers’ group commends the report, the Convention and the Recommendation.
Mr. SCHLETTWEIN (Government delegate, Namibia; Chairperson of the Committee on Safety and Health in Agriculture) — I want to start by sharing with you the great honour which was accorded to my country, Namibia, and myself, by being involved in a very intimate way in the development of a Convention and Recommendation on safety and health in agriculture. I am very thankful for that opportunity which was afforded to us.
The instrument in front of us started four years ago, so the time span during which we have developed an instrument is four years, and not only the past two weeks. So, I just want to make it quite clear that our efforts during the last two weeks involved just adding the dots and commas. The most important work was done in the previous period.
When we started discussions on the proposed Convention and Recommendation, one of the buzz words was “flexibility”; it had to be flexible, it also had to be ratifiable and able to be implemented. If you judge these qualitative measures, or yardsticks, against that which you would like to see, whether you have a good or a bad instrument, I am confident that the answer is that we in fact do have a good one.
Words like “where appropriate”, “where necessary” and “where compatible with national law and practice” are all indicators that there was a willingness on all sides — the Workers and Employers — to indeed incorporate flexibility into the instrument along with ratifiability.
But, I dare say that ratifying, or even adopting this Convention, is just the mere beginning of a long journey. It is my hope that after adoption and ratification the real work of the Convention will only start, namely the implementation of these instruments at the grass-roots level. As citizens involved in agriculture, we are fortunate in that we can really work at the grass-roots level in the true sense of the word. The Workers’ delegate asked correctly, and so did the Employers’ delegate, whether sector-specific instruments are relevant or not. It is my conviction that if we want to work at the grass-roots level, if we want to reach people where it matters, then obviously the future of sectoral instruments is not as bleak as some people want to believe. I would therefore agree that we are in a mutual and amicable situation where we do not have to decide on whether or not, but how best to combine sectoral and generic Conventions.
I have tried to very briefly touch on the qualitative nature of the Convention. Let me now proceed to the quantitative achievements that we have managed during the last two weeks. I am told that we wrote history this time. We produced the most voluminous report ever. It has in fact 829 paragraphs. I am also told that if you compare our report with that of the maternity protection Convention, the latter would just appear to be a mere note in comparison. Some people may believe that people shy away from voluminous reports, but since I have been intimately involved in this one, I am sure it makes very interesting reading. In fact, it is a crucial report which will assist those who implement the Convention with the interpretation of this rather important instrument.
We have also talked about the spirit in which the Committee did its work. When we started off, I think we were prejudged to be on the path of a very difficult process, but I can assure you that through the willingness of my two Vice-Chairpersons and their groups, through the accommodating process of Government delegates, we managed to turn an adversarial process into one which was much more conciliatory. And, as was reported by the Employers’ delegate, we managed to reach a consensus on all Articles except one when we took a vote. I think it would be unfair to say that this achievement could only be accredited to the groups. I think the secretariat and the Office, through very well-prepared documentation and pre-discussions of this initially controversial instrument, did a tremendous job which, in fact, assisted me and my Vice-Chairpersons in reaching these consensus positions very easily. I am very thankful for their participation.
Lastly, I would like to thank by name the Vice-Chairperson of the Workers’ delegation, Mr. Leroy Trotman, not only for the enjoyable English that he speaks, but also for the content that helped us to draw up, in my opinion, a very good Convention. I would also like to thank Mr. Thabo Makeka who, in spite of having difficulty in understanding many of the provisions, if I refer to his introductory remark, helped us tremendously to eventually be in a position to put forward to this House a Convention and Recommendation on safety and health in agriculture.
In conclusion, I would put it to the House and appeal that you support this very important instrument when voting on this issue tomorrow. We will support it in any event.
The PRESIDENT — I now open the general discussion on the report of the Committee on Safety and Health in Agriculture.
Mr. TANDON (Minister of Labour, Government of Punjab, India) — I am grateful to the President for giving me this opportunity to place on record the support of India to the proposed Convention on safety and health in agriculture. As we mentioned during the last session, the subject of safety and health in agriculture is of paramount importance to us in India, and recognizing the importance of the subject, we supported the initiatives discussed during the last session on the subject. This session, continuing the support we gave to this important subject, we congratulate all participants, namely the representatives of the Workers, Employers and the various Governments, on their support to the proposed Convention.
As you know, India is predominantly an agricultural economy, where most economic activity is related to agriculture and allied sectors. Historically, agricultural holdings in the country have been small. Of a total of 110 million cultivators, over 50 per cent belong to the small and marginal farmer category; landless agricultural workers number over 75 million in our country.
I represent Punjab, one of the states of the Indian Union where the “Green Revolution” has made a significant impact. It has no doubt led to increased productivity, but it has also increased the use of pesticides and insecticides and greater use of agricultural machinery and other artificial methods of increasing production. It has also made a marked impact on the health and safety of agricultural workers. However, we do not have a national policy for safety and occupational health in agriculture and this issue has yet to be tackled on a large scale.
It is in this context that we welcome this proposed Convention on health and safety in agriculture. India is a federal polity wherein a large number of subjects, including agriculture, are the concern of the state governments. Any central legislation or policy would necessarily have to be put to consultation of all stakeholders before it could be implemented effectively.
We support the provisions of this Convention, though we did make certain suggestions for minor modifications in the Articles of the draft Convention at the time of discussion. As I said earlier, the approach of the Government of India would be to draw up a national policy on occupational health and safety in agriculture, taking the view of all sections that are directly concerned.
In this context, I am confident that the mechanism of social dialogue between the social partners, as propagated by the ILO, will be of great assistance to us. The State of Punjab, to which I belong, presents a living example of the mechanism of social dialogue in action in real life. The ILO organized, in Punjab, a seminar on promoting social dialogue in India in December 2000, with the active collaboration of the Government of Punjab. Motivated by the deliberations of the seminar, the state launched two unique projects for labour welfare, one for resolving disputes between labour and management through a process of mutual reconciliation, and the other for carrying out thorough medical checks on workers employed in hazardous industries.
As in the traditional mechanism, disputes between labour and management are first brought before a reconciliation panel, where an attempt is made to bring about a settlement between the parties. About 50 per cent of disputes are settled in this manner, and the rest are sent to the labour courts, where they take a long time to reach settlement. A conscious attempt was an made to settle such cases by social dialogue between the partners through the management of the Peoples’ Courts, or Lok Adalats, as recognized by our Legal Services Authority, 1987. I am happy to inform you that there was an enthusiastic response from all social partners including the representatives of workers, employers, government officers, judges and even lawyers. This has resulted in the settlement of about 11,500 cases out of a total of 18,000 pending cases, within the short span of six months. The sum of 75 million rupees was also paid to the workers in settlement of these cases. These results are very encouraging, as this step concludes litigation between the parties; there is no scope for further appeals, etc.
Similarly, about 143 medical camps have been organized over five months, providing medical screening for about 45,000 workers, with the primary objective of protecting their health and safety. We are shortly going to extend this project to cover non-hazardous enterprises.
What I want to emphasize is that the mechanism of social dialogue has taken deep root in our state and is being implemented successfully in real life. It is encouraging to note that not only our neighbouring states, but also neighbouring countries, are seeking information and our active assistance in adopting and implementing the mechanism within their respective areas. A number of inquiries have already been received by us in this regard from various quarters.
I may assure you, therefore, that we shall do our best to build consensus through the process of social dialogue, putting into place a system which is effective in developing and implementing a coherent safety and health policy in agriculture.
Finally, I once again congratulate the ILO and the tripartite mechanism on having developed such a Convention. On behalf of my country, I can assure you that the decisions that form part of the Convention will be given every attention and incorporated in our national policy.
Mr. POTTER (Employers’ delegate, United States) — We endorse Mr. Makeka’s description of the background leading to the two-year discussion on safety and health in agriculture and we highlight particularly his comments that related to maternity leave to which points are equally applicable here. We also very much appreciate and commend Mr. Makeka’s capable leadership of the Employers’ group on this issue.
For the past two years the United States business community has been represented on the Committee on Safety and Health in Agriculture by Ms. Jodie Stearns, who operates a family farm along with her husband outside Toledo, Ohio. They employ approximately 125 workers to harvest pickling cucumbers and peppers grown on their farm. She is also an attorney who is on the board of directors of the National Council of Agricultural Employers which represents thousands of agricultural employers across the United States. Her hope and that of the United States business community was to participate in the drafting of a Convention and Recommendation that would benefit both farm workers and farmers.
Although the Convention is a vast improvement on last year’s text, it should not be adopted by the Conference for some very practical reasons.
Everyone knows that the United States is a very blessed developed country. Yet even in the United States the cost structures and economics of family farms are such that full implementation of this Convention would drive the majority of family farms out of business because of the additional costs incurred. Such farms would become unprofitable and unable to compete. This is particularly true today when so many US farmers are struggling just to survive. The reality for most farms in the United States is that they are husband and wife operations with virtually no infrastructure to implement the provisions of the Convention. The Convention and Recommendation treat farms as if they are large businesses with a substantial human resources infrastructure. In our view, any country that ratifies this Convention and fully implements it will have created a competitive disadvantage for its agricultural sector in the global market-place.
In addition, the Convention goes far beyond the safety and health of agricultural workers. It needlessly duplicates and often exceeds the provisions of other ILO Conventions such as the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155), the Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138), the Chemicals Convention, 1990 (No. 170) (as well as its accompanying Recommendation (No. 177)), and the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182). For example, the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182), does not limit all agricultural labour for youth under 18, but this Convention does. There is virtually no flexibility in the Convention other than the method by which the country goes about complying with it.
The Convention is impractical at several levels. It assumes that farms have stable workforces where representatives can be identified and elected. For most farms in the United States, the workforces are seasonal and the composition of those workforces vary each year. The Convention assumes that farmers have sufficient infrastructure to conduct risk assessments and training programmes.
Perhaps most significantly, the Convention does not recognize that agriculture is driven by the weather. The concept of working time arrangements is injurious to production agriculture because the hours of work are dictated by weather conditions that cannot be controlled. These compelling problems as well as the inclusion of such issues as ergonomics, special treatment of women workers and compulsory insurance undermine the fragile economics of agriculture.
For these practical reasons, US employers will abstain on the vote for both the Convention and the Recommendation.
Mr. REKOLA (Employers’ adviser, Finland) — Health and safety at work is definitely an important and, as an employer, I would say even a natural aspect of working life. Every reasonable employer takes care of the health and safety of his workers because by doing so he ensures the productivity of economic activity in the enterprise.
Accidents at the workplace and absenteeism from work with working hours lost because of an inadequate working environment, always cause costs for employers and disturb the production process. So, from an employers’ point of view, health and safety activities and productivity at the enterprise level go hand in hand. At least in the long term, the efforts and costs of promoting health and safety of personnel can be seen as inputs for higher productivity. This is also true in an agricultural undertaking.
Employers and employees in their undertakings can jointly improve health and safety step by step without causing excessively heavy economic costs for the undertaking.
The drafting of the Convention and Recommendation concerning safety and health in agriculture has required good will and intrinsic work from all the tripartite parties.
Thanks to the good cooperation and targeted effort of the Workers, Employers, Governments and the Office during this session of the Conference, the Committee has been able to draw up these new instruments for safety and health in agriculture. Again, from an employer’s point of view, both the Convention and Recommendation form a new global framework which provides a space for national measures in the ILO member States.
From the very beginning, flexibility shaped the employers’ objectives because of the huge variation of conditions, legislation and practices concerning agriculture in different parts of the world. The purpose is for us to get the best possible agreement that will be ratified by as many member States as possible. We all agree that the final aim of this process is to implement these instruments widely and through the different national approaches to promote health and safety in agricultural work.
As an Employers’ delegate from Finland, I would like to express my most sincere thanks to Mr. Schlettwein, the Chairperson of the Committee, to Mr. Makeka, the Employer Vice-Chairperson, and to Mr. Trotman, the Worker Vice-Chairperson, and to all my colleagues in the Government and Employers’ and Workers’ groups. It has been interesting to work in a global and inspiring spirit.
Ms. NASIREMBE (Employers’ adviser, Kenya) — I am privileged to make these comments. For the last two weeks we have reviewed every word and phrase that formed the sentences of the proposed instruments before us. I am left with complete admiration for all of you here, and those who have now left but who participated tirelessly to achieve what is now in final draft form.
At the tripartite meeting on Monday we reviewed 811 paragraphs of the Committee’s proceedings and, with a few observations, agreed that the record represented a fair view of our discussions, debates and agreements.
We are now here to give the green light for progress to be made on our work regarding the proposed Convention and Recommendation concerning safety and health in agriculture.
On Monday we also paid great tribute to the good work performed by our tripartite Chairperson, and by his two colleagues, the Worker Vice-Chairperson, Mr. Trotman, and the Employer Vice-Chairperson, Mr. Makeka. We were grateful that, despite the differences in opinion during the debates, these three people indeed guided us to harmonize our thinking to reach desired compromises on all Articles of the Convention and Paragraphs of the Recommendation. We all generally agreed that we could live with what is contained in these two instruments.
From the African Employer point of view, and as a Kenyan employer, I urge your delegates to vote “yes” for these instruments; we have a moral duty and responsibility to do so. To vote otherwise, while of course democratic, would not only undermine our determination and energy to contribute tangibly to the world community, it would also undermine the efforts of the ILO, which strives for fairness for all at the workplace.
Ms. MAYMAN (Workers’ adviser and substitute delegate, Australia) — On behalf of the Workers’ group, I seek to address two specific aspects of the proposed Convention concerning safety and health in agriculture, and its associated Recommendation, before the Conference. These aspects are particularly important to workers, and they address the issue of the ability to elect a worker safety and health representative, and the special needs of women workers already mentioned this morning, although not necessarily in a positive sense.
Given the unacceptably high number of injuries, fatalities and ill health in this sector, it is particularly important that the social partners and governments address in cooperation the preventive strategies necessary to ensure that health and safety are a normal part of the agricultural sector. Factors that we need to consider, as social partners and as governments, include seasonal work, which often necessitates long hours of work and, therefore, high risks, the geographic isolation of many agricultural areas, the low levels of inspection and enforcement by many competent authorities, small undertakings with less than five employees, and the casual, part-time and itinerant nature of seasonal work.
The proposed Convention before the Conference covers the three fundamental worker rights in safety and health. Those are rights that we all know, the right to know, the right to participate and elect safety and health representatives, and the right to stop unsafe work in the face of imminent or serious danger.
In this respect, worker participation in the agricultural sector must occupy a central place if we are to implement preventive strategies. The challenge is for worker organizations, in their respective member States, to ensure that a comprehensive approach is adopted to worker participation, and Brother Barry Leathwood, from the United Kingdom, will present some of the options that are already implemented in member States throughout the world.
The Workers’ group particularly welcomes the achievements on women workers, and also the fact that it was an all-male contingent, in terms of the Worker Vice-Chairperson and the Employer Vice-Chairperson, and indeed the Chairperson of the Committee, that posted those achievements. Congratulations from all women.
Those achievements can be seen in an important Article, “Measures shall be taken to ensure that the special needs of women agricultural workers are taken into account in relation to pregnancy, breastfeeding and reproductive health”. Clear recognition has been given to factors within the sector that impact on women and, in particular, the need for safety and health with regard to the foetus, to babies through their mothers’ breast milk, and to the potential for women to reproduce without risk from workplace contaminants.
Delegates will all appreciate that, as workers in this sector, because of the nature and the culture of work, women often do not go home at night, because of the long hours, or are lodged near their place of work and therefore their exposure to workplace contaminants may occur 24 hours per day. In this case, pesticides and the issue of chemicals has to be given high regard. Women workers are particularly vulnerable, and the Article, and indeed the proposed Convention and an aspect of the proposed Recommendation, takes this into account.
Governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations recognize, indeed, in considering women workers, that agriculture is the primary source of employment for women in most developing countries, and women’s participation in the sector generally, including in the developed countries, is increasing. In this regard, ensuring their safety and health and recognizing their special needs, is fundamental and I commend the proposed Convention and Recommendation to you.
Mr. KANGAH (Workers’ adviser, Ghana) — On behalf of the Workers’ group in the Committee on Safety and Health in Agriculture and on my own behalf and that of my national union — General Agricultural Workers’ Union of TUC, Ghana — I am delighted to have this opportunity to address the plenary session of the 89th Session of the International Labour Conference.
Over the last two weeks, we have completed a process that started in 1998, although for many years before that the trade unions had been pressing the ILO in tripartite sectoral meetings and other forums to address the issue of improving safety and health in agriculture.
The Workers’ group very much welcomes the new Convention and Recommendation that are now before you, and urges unanimous support in tomorrow’s voting.
We believe that these instruments, when ratified and implemented, will bring about considerable improvements in the lives of agricultural workers. I can also assure you that we will not be idle in the meantime and trade unions will be using the adoption of these new instruments to campaign for better health and safety for agricultural workers. This is an issue that cannot wait for ratification — it needs urgent action and immediate action now, to halt the appalling death toll and injury rate.
This situation is so grave — half of workplace fatalities take place in agriculture alone — that we would also like to call on the ILO to update the old code of practice in agriculture, drafted as long ago as the 1970s. This would be very useful to build on the success of the Convention and Recommendation and to help with their implementation in the workplace.
Finally, we would also like to use the opportunity to welcome the very recent work that has been initiated by the Director-General of the ILO to develop a code of practice on HIV/AIDS in the world of work. AIDS is a grave threat to rural villages, and the decimation of the workforce threatens livelihoods and food security. It is important to use the workplace to pass on information on preventive measures and to use workplace organization to combat the disease.
On behalf of agricultural workers worldwide, I would like to thank the Director-General of the ILO, for his personal interest in attempts to ensure that these two instruments are adopted tomorrow in this very Conference hall. The scope of the Convention and Recommendation is very wide-ranging. On behalf of agricultural workers worldwide, I would like to assure the distinguished delegates assembled here that the adoption of the Convention is going to strengthen the International Union of Food’s campaign for clean and safe food, as well as efforts to increase food production which have been led by a Food and Agriculture Organization campaign for some time.
Mr. LEATHWOOD (Workers’ adviser, United Kingdom) —Like everyone who has been involved in this process, I have been both delighted and at times frustrated by the lengthy nature of the process which started, not just at the beginning of this session of our Conference, but when the Governing Body made its decision in 1998 to put safety and health in agriculture on the agenda in a very firm way, and I commend them for that.
As we all know, half the population of this planet works in agriculture and over half of these are women. It is an industry full of vulnerable people — women, men and children — and this proposed Convention and its Recommendation, if ratified and implemented by the countries of the world, will undoubtedly improve the lives of so many people. Indeed, it will literally save lives. People who would otherwise die, will live because of the work that is being carried out by this Conference, by this Working Group, by Employers, Governments and Workers.
The proposed Convention covers many aspects of safety and health in agriculture and I am particularly pleased to note the special provisions concerning women. But I would like to draw attention to two other aspects of the proposed Convention. Article 8 makes provision for safety and health representatives and committees. It is a good article which will allow workers to become involved in the organization of their own safety. It is crucial that people are not just told what is necessary, but that they themselves are allowed to participate and organize their own safety. This is a mechanism which in other industries has made a dramatic improvement to the safety and health of the workers covered by this system. However, whilst the text does not impose limits on the size of our current undertakings, it does not however provide the mechanism to ensure that the workers in small undertakings are able to benefit from these provisions. There are vast differences in experience in various parts of the world in the work of safety and health representatives. One example is Sweden, which for many years has had a system of regional, or what we prefer to call roving, safety representatives. This is experience from which we can all learn. In the United Kingdom, several pieces of research have been carried out, and private schemes have been in operation for a number of years. Because we believe this is so important, we would urge that in 2003 on the occasion of the review of safety and health in agriculture, the issue of small undertakings be addressed, so that the lives of so many more people may benefit from improved provisions.
Article 16 addresses the issue of young workers. Young people are our future and child labour is a major issue; this Convention will outlaw children under 16 years of age from working in agriculture. Now that might provide some difficulties in some parts of the world, but it is something that must be done as we cherish our future. Indeed, those between 16 and 18 will only be able to work in what might be described as hazardous occupations if they are not properly trained. This is in fact an issue for my own country — the United Kingdom — which is working on changes which hopefully will enable it to ratify this Convention very quickly.
Finally, all the work of Governments, Employers and Workers will have little value unless many governments ratify this Convention and implement it too. I therefore call upon the ILO, and indeed the member States, to supply the necessary resources to campaign for the ratification of this Convention throughout the world, and generally to achieve decent work in agriculture. I commend the proposed Convention to you.
Mr. AGARWAL (Employers’ adviser, India) — I represent a country of over 100 million people, with a recorded history of more than 5,000 years. I come to you with humbleness to talk to you. I am proud to say that we are the oldest civilization. Human history has seen many ups and downs. Let us not get intoxicated with today’s civilization, for this has happened many times.
The ILO is one of the most important parts of the United Nations system. It is dedicated to tripartism but we must ask what is the purpose of that tripartism? Is it producing the desired result, or is it tripartism for tripartism’s sake?
There was certainly a lot of talking last year. Since then, I have been working in the Committee on Safety and Health in Agriculture and we have been able to hammer out a draft Convention but, believe me, all the Articles of the Convention are not to my full liking.
We are very interested in the health and safety of workers in agriculture, but you must remember that conditions differ from country to country. This aspect must be taken into account. There are small farms, big farms, farms that are big by our standards but small by those of developed countries. Many of the recommendations are not relevant to our farms.
Of course, many problems are common to all countries. I feel that in many cases we have repeated the work of earlier Conventions, for example, with the provisions on the handling, storage and use of chemicals. Similarly, concerns for women workers have been taken care of in earlier Conventions and are again repeated here. Why this repetition?
Our Worker friends are sometimes not agreeing to delete even a single word. We all know how proceedings were held up for one small word. Different languages and perceptions make the task all the more difficult. We feel that provisions for workers, transport and agricultural produce have different connotations in the context of South-East Asian countries. Similarly, it is difficult to apply the same age restrictions for workers in agriculture.
We feel that the ILO is dominated, directly or indirectly, by a few countries. If this continues, then all the Conventions which we pass will remain on paper and will never be implemented. I ask you to respect on this aspect of our work. What we all want to see is implementable Conventions.
We consider the world to be one family, and the smallest unit of our society is not an individual but our family. In the end, I must say that we have made progress and I am happy that many times we have been able to insert a rider relating to national laws.
Original Spanish: Mr. DELGADO (Government delegate, Uruguay) — I am speaking on behalf of MERCOSUR, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay – as well as on behalf of Chile. The report which is placed before the Conference reveals the great and fruitful work that has been done by the Committee and the Officers. In particular, we thank the Chairperson and the two Vice-Chairpersons for their efforts.
This difficult and valuable work has led to a Convention and a Recommendation on which the countries that I represent will vote in favour. We think that these instruments will promote improvements in the safety and health of agricultural workers.
However, we would like to point out that previous instruments on safety and health at work approved by this Organization have not been ratified by enough countries. Paragraphs 787-811 of the report, reflect the discussion which took place on the resolution that the Argentine Government, with the support of the MERCOSUR countries and Chile, together with Honduras, Panama and the Dominican Republic, submitted to the Conference, in full compliance with the ILO Constitution, the Declaration of Philadelphia and the Conference regulations. In essence, the restriction links working conditions with discriminatory practices in international trade. The restriction requests States Members to remove subsidies and reduce tariff barriers, while recognizing a special regime for developing countries. It recommends that the Organization take a number of steps in that direction.
The OECD has confirmed that subsidies accorded to agricultural exports in the industrialized countries, which represented more than $360 thousand billion in 1999, have returned to the high levels which prevailed before the completion of the Uruguay Round. This is, for example, more than the total value of the agricultural exports of all of the Latin American and Caribbean countries combined.
Agriculture is now the next highly subsidized sector of the world economy, and the use of export subsidies by a small number of countries reduces the income of agricultural producers in other exporting countries and impairs local production in food importing countries. Moreover, there are considerable differences between the market access conditions for agricultural produce and those afforded to other products.
The average import duty an agricultural produce is over eight times more than the tariff applied to industrial products. Taxes of over 300 per cent are not uncommon. These commercial practices are an obstacle to the improvement of the health and safety conditions of agricultural workers in many countries.
On behalf of the Governments that I represent, I request that this Conference, the Governing Body and the Director-General take into account this very important issue, which clearly comes within the mandate of this Organization. It is not only our right but our duty to analyse it, discuss it and try to resolve it.
The PRESIDENT — We shall now proceed to the adoption of the report itself, that is the summary of the discussion to be found in paragraphs 1-516 of the first part, and in paragraphs 517-829 of the second part. But before we do that, I will give the floor to the Clerk who will inform us of a correction to be made to the report.
The CLERK OF THE CONFERENCE — There is a correction to be made to the French, English and Spanish texts. It concerns paragraph 51 of the first part of the report. In the English version, the last sentence of this paragraph should read as follows: “The Government member of Zimbabwe, speaking on behalf of the African Government members of the Committee (Angola, Algeria, Botswana, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Kenya, Lesotho, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia) expressed agreement with the Workers’ intentions and their support for an inclusive approach on this issue.”
The PRESIDENT — If there are no objections, I take it that the report is adopted.
(The report is adopted.)
Proposed Convention concerning safety and health in agriculture: Adoption
We shall now adopt the proposed Convention, Article by Article.
We shall now proceed to the adoption of the proposed Convention.
May I take it that the proposed Convention as a whole is adopted?
(The Convention is adopted as a whole.)
In accordance with paragraph 7 of article 40 of the Conference Standing Orders, the provisions of the Convention concerning safety and health in agriculture will be submitted to the Conference Drafting Committee for the preparation of the final text.
Proposed Recommendation concerning safety and health in agriculture: Adoption
We shall now proceed to the adoption of the proposed Recommendation concerning safety and health in agriculture.
May I take it that the proposed Recommendation as a whole is adopted?
(The Recommendation is adopted as a whole).
In accordance with paragraph 7 of article 40 of the Conference Standing Orders, the provisions of the Recommendation concerning safety and health in agriculture will be submitted to the Conference Drafting Committee for the preparation of the final text.
We have now concluded the consideration of the report of the Committee on Safety and Health in Agriculture, as well as the proposed Convention and proposed Recommendation submitted to us by the Committee on Safety and Health in Agriculture.
I wish to thank the Officers and members of the Committee, as well as the staff of the secretariat, for the excellent work they have done.
A record vote will be held tomorrow in the plenary on the Convention and Recommendation concerning safety and health in agriculture.
Updated by SA. Last update: 27 November 2006