Rural economy

Workers in rural areas face severe decent work deficits

About 80 per cent of the world’s poor live in rural areas where they face governance gaps, informality, underdeveloped production systems, limited access to public services and inadequate social protection coverage.

Press release | 07 July 2022

GENEVA (ILO News) – About 80 per cent of the world’s poor live in rural areas many among them workers who face severe decent work deficits, including inadequate safety at work, low pay, lack of stability and security of work, and excessive working hours, with women and young workers the hardest hit according to a new report from the Bureau for Workers' Activities (ACTRAV) at the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The report, Decent work deficits among rural workers is based on 16 cases studies covering 15 countries in Africa, Asia, Central Asia, Europe and Latin America.

The report finds that:
  • Chemical exposure poses serious health and other risks to agricultural workers, in particular to children and pregnant and lactating women.
  • Women workers are disproportionately represented in the most precarious positions. Female workers also tend to be in low-paying, low skilled jobs, suffer huge gender pay gaps, and are more prone to may workplace harassment and abuse compared to male workers.
  • Child labour, forced labour and debt bondage are still a reality. Up to 95 per cent of children engaged in hazardous work are employed in agriculture, notably in the cocoa, palm oil and tobacco sectors. Force labour is also a reality in some sectors and is linked to workers’ multiple dependencies on employers.
  • Weak social dialogue and barriers to accessing worker’s organizations. In many sectors trade unions are either non-existent or face major barriers to interacting with other workers’ organizations such as farmers’ groups and cooperatives. Social dialogue and representation for female, informal, casual, seasonal, temporary and self-employed workers, are all areas of particular concern, as is the representation of smallholders.
  • Social protection remains a dream. Inadequate social protection is a particular issue for workers in precarious arrangements, including informal, casual, temporary and subcontracted workers and day labourers who form the large majority of workers on agricultural plantations.
The ACTRAV report makes a number of recommendations to help address these decent work deficits. They include:
  • Strengthening labour administration in rural economies
  • Improving the presence and capacity in rural economies of trade unions and other grassroots workers’ organizations
  • Formalizing informal enterprises and employment arrangements
  • Ratification of and adherence to relevant ILO Conventions and other International Labour Standards
  • Integrating rural economic sectors into formal and institutionalized social dialogue processes
  • Strengthening crisis preparedness and social protection in the rural economy
  • More research and policy analysis for better understanding and response to the needs and expectations of rural workers and their organizations.

For more information please contact:
Mamadou Kaba SOUARE
Head, Communications and Publications
Email: souare[at]